In addition to understanding the web site’s purpose and goals, you need to know who will use the site. If you know me, you know that I always harp on how important it is to understand your user. Have you ever heard the saying, “The customer is always right?” Well, for the purposes of web design (or instructional design for that matter), the user is always right. And they know what they want. It is all about them. Take the image at the right. This user is a male, age 5-10, and is looking for information about his favorite cartoon. Sites like Cartoon Network are specifically designed to meet the needs of this type of user. Consider the following quote:
Comprehensive planning and analysis ensures that designers and developers will provide what their users want. If you start to code your Web pages without thorough planning and analysis, you run the risk of missing pertinent information. It is much less expensive to make corrections to a Web site in the early phases of a project development that it is to alter Web pages that are completed. –HTML, XHTML, & CSS Complete
Getting started thinking about the user is the bridge that takes us over into the analysis phase which is where a designer may spend a majority of their time. Knowing the makeup of the target audience is key. For example, how old are they, what is their gender, what do they like, how well do they know computers, etc. I often find it helpful to think in extremes and then meet in the middle. Imagine the following fictitious users:
- A 10 year old boy needs a cartoon web site to find out information about his favorite characters.
- A 75 year old man needs a tax web site to find information out about his itemized deductions.
While there are attributes of these users that are similar, e.g., both sites are basically informational. Although, where they are different would truly effect the design and development of the site. Like I stated above, knowing the target audience will help you design a web site that will meet their needs.
Think about it. If you are not designing a site for its user, who are you designing it for?
These days it is not as crucial to take the users computing environments into consideration with the way that the internet and speeds have evolved. We used to state that it was important because some users could have low-speed connections and then we would not want to create pages with large graphics or multimedia elements. While I say this, it is still best practice not to have pages with large images but if they are necessary, provide a link to download rather than automatically load.
It’s all about the user. Always about the user. The web site is for the user. Not for the designer or the client. For example, Amazon’s website is not for the company Amazon. It is for their customers… the users.