Introduction to Web Design & Usability

One way to direct clients and designers to consider users and the user experience is by composing two short statements that define:

Learn and think about your audience, then learn and think about computers, then think again about your audience.
Erik Adigard, design director at HotWired

Defining a Site's Primary Audience

With a primary goal or purpose statement in mind you need to look at your target audience more closely. Rick Leveine, the developer of the Sun Microsystems Guide to Web Style, states that "the more specifically you can catalogue the needs of the people reading your Web pages, the better you'll be able to meet those needs." In my experience, Mr. Leveine is absolutely right. If you do not know what your end users are looking for then you can in no way begin to meet their needs.

You may be asking yourself why any of this matters. It matters because it is the end user who will be using the site to solve their problem, whether it be finding the best product, learning to tie a decorative bow, or finding that elusive mp3. Audience definition is essential no matter what the primary goal or purpose of your site is.

Jeffrey Veen says that "you have three seconds to convince a user not to use the Back button. Three seconds. So, get something on the screen immediately, and make it really interesting." Yet if you don't know your audience how can you possibly capture their attention in those magical three seconds?

This question of audience should define and guide you through just about every remaining phase of your Web site implementation. It will determine how you write your content, which multimedia you include, and how the site is organized. Here are some questions you can used to stimulate discussion regarding the site's audience:

A few of these questions can be answered by looking at site statistics for the existing site. Some can be answered by the client. Others must be speculated.

Clients need to be asked who will be coming to their site, and for what purpose. How will users coming to the site benefit the client? What will users need to help them be succesful on the site? These questions will not only help identify the audience, it will lead you to a discussion of the site's objective and strategy.

Objective and Strategy

To examine the importance and practice of writing a web site's objective and strategy as part of the first stage of web design, read Grey Storey's article, Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia (or Build a Website for No Reason).