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Once you've got a statement of purpose you're halfway to being ready to design.
The next step is to understand who'll be looking at the page, and why.
The best-designed web sites are sensitive to the needs of the users.
They're designed to anticipate what real people are trying to achieve, and then to help them do it with the minimum fuss.
No-one uses the web for the fun of it
Every web site is a means to an end. We're all looking to get something out of it, to achieve certain personal goals (states of being).
Common daily goals for me include:
- to be relaxed and focused, knowing there's nothing urgent I have to do urgently
- to remain chilled out while I work
- to know that I can support my family
- to be entertained and informed
Note that none of these goals mentions 'using software', but they all happen to involve interacting with software in order to achieve them:
- in order to relax, I make sure I've dealt with any urgent issues. One of the ways I do that is by finding out if I have any email, and dealing with any outstanding email messages.
- to chill out while I work, I listen to music on my laptop.
- to earn money to support my family, I design and build web sites, as quickly and easily as possible.
- to entertain and inform myself, I find out what's happening of interest, mostly using my web and RSS browsers
Using any tool is a means to an end. Understanding the ends that your visitors are wanting to reach gives you insight into what will help them have a more satisfying, successful experience (and achieve the site's goals for you).
Using software is a means to an end. Interaction design guru Alan Cooper wrote an illuminating book all about software and goals, in which he describes his goal-oriented approach to software design. I recommend everyone who's involved in designing software to read "The Inmates are Running the Asylum".
Why will people use your web site?
Without actually meeting a representative number of your actual web site visitors, you can't know their goals for real. Because this is usually very unlikely, you need another technique.
First, note down the different major groups of users, those who may use your site in different ways. For example, you might have returning customers, prospective customers, employees, and suppliers.
Write down each group's typical goals. The goals should be broad enough to be typical of all visitors across the group Try to cover the full range of different needs and usage patterns.
- Prospective customer, whose goal is to understand how our products compare to our competitor's.
- End-user, whose goal is to find timely help using our product.
- Young home buyer, whose goal is to find attractive properties to look round, with the ultimate goal of finding an apartment that suits her lifestyle.
For each type of user, follow the simple steps below to develop a persona who will represent each user group in your design process.
A persona is an imaginary real person who helps give your design process focus. They're handy archetypes, based on everything you can find out about the real types of people who'll use your site. To help make them believable, you'll furnish them with their own realistic likes and dislikes, their own personal agendas, and most importantly their own personal goals.
(The process described here is primarily based on the goal-oriented design process created by Alan Cooper at Cooper Interaction Design. For further insight into using goal-oriented design for all kinds of applications, please read "About Face 2.0".
You should base your personas' characteristics as much as possible on facts you know about your target market or actual user base. The best way to do this is to carry out prior research to interview a number of actual or typical site users.
Personas are more effective when they represent the likely preferences, goals, and contexts that your real users will have. Ideally, you should speak to people who fit the target audience right now, who are in the right position or have the right experience.
- Picture what your persona looks like. Are they male or female? Are they working, studying, or out of work? How old are they? Give them a name, because a persona is a (pretend) real person. Maybe find a photo to represent them.
- Think about their cultural background. What's their language? What time of day is it when they access your site?
- What skills do they have? IT skills and familiarity with using computers? What about other technical skills, maybe industry-related?
- Are they likely to be challenged by any impairments, such as difficulty with sight or reading? Do they have any special needs, such as accessibility issues?
- Next, write down what they are trying to achieve in general. What goal, or goals, do they wish to reach? For example, if they're a consumer using the web at home, what are their goals for them and their family? If they're a work user, what are their professional goals?
- What specific goals will drive them to use your website? There may be more than one, if they are likely to use your site at different times for different things.
- What are their personal priorities? What kind of thing will they appreciate? What kind of thing would insult, annoy or upset them? What kind of thing might make the difference between a tolerable experience and a pleasant experience? What about a delightful experience? What do they expect as a minimum? What do they hope for? How do they like to feel? What kind of things help them to feel that way?
- What is their potential value to the site? Could they be a key customer or referrer?
- Do they have prior experience of the brand, the market sector, the proposition, other similar web sites, previous versions, product range?
- Will they get shown, or trained in, how to use the site?
- What's their likely frequency of use: one-off, irregular, regular?
- Where on the web have they come from - and why?
- What do they want to go away with?
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