The People Factor in Good Web Design

First impressions matter, especially when it comes to good web design. Do websites always need to shine like a new Ferrari in full sun on a French mountaintop to be useful? No. Sometimes, especially if one knows what they want, Ma and Pa Kettle’s no frills, country discount site does just fine.

 Web Design on a Silver Platter

What is the difference between a beautifully constructed site and one that is more functional in scope and perhaps more ho hum? One looks nice; the other doesn’t, but if the sites are constructed well, they should make sense to the user. Successful sites give user’s what they want, usually with minimal effort.

Research by Jared Spool indicates that people make a decision to stay on or leave a website within a matter of a few seconds. If a website gives people what they expect to find, they are more likely to stick around for a bit if they need to.

In Spool’s usability studies, he monitored how users consume a site. He found that users scan the page for specific keywords. If they do not find the desired keywords, then they move to the site search box. There, they enter in the keywords that they think should result in bringing up the information that they think they should find on the site.

The Hidden Treasure Chest

Savvy web developers have learned to peruse site search logs. There they can glean possible keywords that users have submitted in the search box. The developers can then integrate those words in highly visible areas to reach even more potential users. They use the user-generated search terms as tools to give future users what they expect to see in ways that they expect to see it.

When users go to a site expecting to see a keyword, and there it is—all the better. Click mission accomplished. Giving people web content that they want is not rocket science, yet presenting it in ways that it speaks to them personally can be challenging. Our brains bias us to think that everyone thinks like us, when in fact that may not.

Beauty or the Cyber Beast?

Debate over good web design sometime comes down to the issue of usability versus aesthetics, like they are two opposing forces. Is one more important than the other?

People’s site behavior may be influenced by whether they are only browsing or have a specific task in hand to perform. When people search the internet with a specific goal in mind, that changes their browsing patterns. On the other hand, when users are just browsing, killing time, or being entertained by sites, the emphasis may focus on hanging out longer on visually appealing sites, as opposed to visiting sites with specific search objectives in mind.

Getting on Board with User’s Needs

As a librarian, some of the worst sites I encountered per usability issues were government sites. Frustrated immigrants frequently came to the reference desk, often speaking in broken English. Sometimes close to tears, they asked for help in finding the forms that they needed to apply for citizenship.

As a seasoned librarian, it often took a good deal of time to wade through the site and to click through multiple links to get to a secondary site link, to finally uncover the right form. I always thought it odd that a site catering to those who struggle in speaking English as a second language would not have a simpler interface.

I am happy to see that in doing research for this post, that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services site has been revised and simplified. Hooray for better usability and offering the hand of compassion to those who want to become citizens.

People Matter in Good Web Design

Yes, first impressions do matter. The ways that they matter can extend beyond just seeing a website for the first time.

Revamping the naturalization site, making it more user-friendly and simpler for immigrants to navigate sends a better message in the process—an impression that people matter. Isn’t that what most websites, in one form of the other, remind us everyday? When we create good, accessible content, we also respect the user’s time and efforts in sharing a bit of the world that we create on the web.

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