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User-Centered Website Design

User-Centered Website Design

From the standpoint of a web designer there are two perspectives you can take on how the website will be used:

  • The Sales and Marketing Perspective
  • The User-Centered Perspective

The sales and marketing perspective is usually the most obvious to website buyers. You want a website to sell products. You would like to lead the customer down the click path of your choosing, with the final step being the purchase. You also want to create certain associations with your “brand” in the customer’s mind, such as “our brand is stylish, ” or “our brand is valuable.” You want to condition the user to have certain reactions when seeing your brand. In short, you want to make the visitor do something, or do something to the visitor. You want to lead, or push them into action. When designing from this perspective you start with what you, as the Website owner, want the user to do, and design the Website to that end.

The other perspective you can take in designing is the user-centered perspective.The user will come to your Website for a reason. They may want to compare the price of your product to another product, or their budget. They may want to view product or service specifications, download a white paper, or make a purchase. When designing from this perspective, you start with what the user, or users, wants to do and design the Website to that end.

So you may guess at this point that if you were to design your website based on what the user wants to do, they would have an easier time doing that, and therefore have a better experience. They would see the Website as being more usable (easier to use) and feel that they had a better experience after using it. With the Website designed based on the needs of the sales or marketing department, the opposite can be true. Users may feel the site is difficult to use, especially if what they want to do does not match what the sales marketing people want them to do (or think they should be doing) on the Website.

In reality Websites are designed with a mix of sales/marketing perspective and user-centered perspective. Because of company politics, it is usually the case the sales and marketing department has more political power than the Web team, so it’s often difficult for the Web designer to shift the focus on to the user and away from making the Website an online brochure, or an exercise in operant conditioning.It is important that the user’s voice is heard. In the end, the best thing a Website can do for your business is to give the user a good experience by allowing them to do what they want to do. That won’t happen unless you design for it.