Designing for Your Audience

I’ve been spending a large portion of my work life lately working on a redesign of website for my organization’s largest client. Well, not exactly a redesign–originally the scale was smaller, but it’s become apparent that what we’re actually working on is essentially a phased redesign. As a colleague and I work through the process of squeezing the most out of the old site as we can while trying to reorganize the new site, I keep thinking about how a user might interact with our site and who we are designing for.

We have a lot of information on the website for basically three different audiences. A quick spin through the current site reveals that there are a lot of areas that could be improved. So we’re making design decisions based on what we think needs help and where the site’s greatest weaknesses are. This is a worthwhile exercise, but ultimately without testing our assumptions, we’re just guessing. The guesses are educated and are informed by a combined 20 years of web design experience, but they are guesses nonetheless. That’s why I’ve been advocating usability testing. Usability tests would provide us with the data we need to be confident we’re hitting the mark in terms of what our audiences need. And if you’ve read Steve Krug‘s “Don’t Make Me Think,” you’ll know that usability testing doesn’t have to be overly complicated to be effective.

In any organization there are competing interests and of course stakeholders who hold more sway than others. And when it comes to design–or communications in general–everyone believes he’s an expert. But designers, particularly of user interfaces, need to champion the needs of the audience. They, ultimately, are the only ones who matter. If the design suits a board member or your CEO, that’s nice, but if it doesn’t serve your intended audience, well, it doesn’t much matter what your stakeholders thought because, unfortunately, the design has failed.

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