Web design is a slightly dated term. In the early days of internet, it was up to the web designer to create the whole website from concept to launch.
You’d often get web designers who understood the code but were crap at design and they’d deliver websites that worked but were not pretty or nice to use. Then you’d get people who were great at design but didn’t understand online marketing so the site would look beautiful but it would be a nightmare to get it ranking for any phrase with more than a small amount of competition. There were of course some smart arses who were able to create brilliant, user-centred websites, build them, and market them. Those guys are now retired at 40 and driving around in posh cars because they were doing it right before everyone else. Meh.
Evolution of website design
As our industry has evolved, so has our understanding of the requirements for online success.
In 2014, the number of people that comprise a web project delivery team is rather more than just a solitary web designer. If we want to create a website which enables users to complete their objectives and have a pleasant, low friction experience doing so, we need user experience designers, visual designers, conversion rate optimisation specialists, developers, digital marketers, test engineers… yeah, it’s a long list and I could go on.
For us, the amount of time that can be spent researching users and planning a website largely depends on the client’s budget and time scales. Here’s some of what we do though.
Understanding where we’re starting from
We want to understand where the website is succeeding or failing users currently and where improvements need to be made. We do this by looking at analytics data, conducting surveys and user interviews, and split testing.
We need to know what users are experiencing on competitor websites so we can ensure we’re presenting them with a good or better experience comparatively. That means we have to look at a few key competitors to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
Once we’ve got our user research complete and we know who and what we’re dealing with, we create personas to communicate the findings. Personas are made up people who represent each segment of primary users. We give each persona a name and describe their behaviour, their motivation for visiting the website, their goals, their frustrations and their expectations from the site.
Communicating this information is made easier by the development of personas because we can visualise them and get to know each one. The personas can then be used throughout the design, development and marketing process to frame decisions and keep the project outcomes user-centric.
User experience design
The UX design process involves considering and planning the site’s creative concepts, information architecture, content, and functionality. All of these decisions are made within the context of the user research and personas so that the site remains user-centred.
We consider the user’s journey determining how visitors are going to accomplish their goals and navigate the website. We also consider the emotions we want to trigger and how we’re going to achieve that.
We plan how we’re going to persuade users to follow a particular path so they complete certain tasks on the website, whether that’s completing a form or buying a product.
Whilst it’s important users feel like they have successfully completed their own objectives on the site, we can’t lose site of the fact this is a commercial project with commercial objectives. We therefore want them to complete our conversion objectives.