Website Design PT2: You Have Users

Shift CollaborativeWeb Design


In our redesign of CAI’s website, we structured the content for their users.

by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow

When attempting to understand the choices and motives of your online audience, there is one essential fact you must know.  You can call them your audience, your customers, your clients, or your whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you understand that they are much more than these labels convey.  When they are online, they are users.

What is a user?

A user is a person with a purpose and existing expectations.  When they arrive on your website, they have a specific task they want to complete, and they have existing expectations on how they will be able to complete it.  Their expectations are based on a mixture of previous experience with the subject matter, other websites, and internal intuition.

A user differs from an audience in the respect that they are not on the website to read what you have to say.  You and your website are only one half of the conversation.  A user represents the second half of the conversation.  They arrive on your website with thoughts and questions about the subject matter.  As they seek to connect with you through your website, they will operate as they are having a conversation, not as if they are listening to a lecture.  In order for your website to be successful, it must anticipate the thoughts and questions of your users.  Otherwise, you will be leading two separate conversations in which neither party is satisfied with the outcome.

How can I anticipate my users’ needs?

In order to anticipate the needs of your users, you must first get to know who your users are.  You can start by segmenting your audience by new/returning visitors and demographic data such as age, gender, martial status, profession, etc.  However, the greatest websites often go much further, asking questions about their interests, values, beliefs, likes/dislikes, and so on.  In addition, they also question the motivations, tasks, and goals to be accomplished by the users when visiting the website.  All of this additional information is often complied into user personas for each user type who visits the website.

A user persona is a profile of a specific user type that explains not only common demographic data, but also a head shot, name, and personality of the user.  The purpose of a user persona is to aid the web designers and writers in imagining a specific person rather than a vague demographic.  It is much easier to create effective designs for a specific person with wants, needs, and goals than a faceless grouping of demographic data.

The personality and values of a persona can often indicate previous experience, preexisting thoughts, and the most important questions on the subject matter for that specific user.  This information is what provides insight into how that user will behave on the website.  Understanding this information for each persona is what will help you anticipate the needs of all of your users.

The Next Post…

This post is the second in a series of posts on website design being published this month.  If you’ve enjoyed this article, watch for my next post, Website Design PT3: Learning from Your Mistakes, where I’ll be explaining how to analyze your current website for how it does/does not meet the needs of your users.  The post will go live on Thursday, August 21.  If you missed our first post, Website Design PT1: 5 Wrong Assumptions, check it out to learn about 5 common assumptions about website design that couldn’t be more wrong.