Turning the inside view inside-out and really understanding your users
Unfortunately, there are still many websites that don’t follow a holistic approach with regard to individual user tasks; they instead represent a company-internal view. These websites are easily recognisable by their navigation structures that represent departments or in-house product categories.
When a company realises that it is communicating its ‘inside’ view, this should be the moment to consider how to engage more meaningfully with the views of the people who need or want to use their website in their specific work and life situations. It’s vital to really get to know your users; this can be done by matching your business requirements and stakeholder expectations with the expectations and interests of your users. By doing this, you can then optimise the information and functions of your website, maximising usability and accessibility. This process will then be aligned with the individual information needs of your users.
Distinguish between user experience and usability
User experience is often confused with usability. As a central element, usability determines how effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily a user achieves they/their specific goals; it therefore has a very high value for the use of the website. However, the personal individual experience of using the website, i.e. the emotions that are triggered when using it, fall into the area of user experience.
For a brand or product to be successful, positive emotions must be triggered in the user or customer. This happens when the user can achieve their goals effortlessly.
The model shown above, based on Maslow's pyramid of needs, shows the possible gradations of a website from the tasks to the meaningfulness.
To reach the top of the pyramid of needs, the experience must be meaningful to the user. To achieve this, we need to see the website as part of a holistic brand experience, including optimised touchpoints surrounding the website.
The user experience of your website does not only concern your website - an example
Here is a small example where, despite good usability, the user experience of using a website left negative emotions. My son was given a technology construction kit for Christmas. Unfortunately, two small building blocks were missing. When visiting the website, I very quickly found the service area and the possibility to request spare parts via a complaint form. Both the website and the form were clear and user-friendly. However, when filling out the mandatory fields, I had problems finding the required information. First, I had to give the construction set number, which was supposed to be on the package, which was already packed away; this meant that I only had the instructions at hand. Even though the instructions were clear, the part number was still missing. Next, I was asked to give the part number and because of the easy instructions, I was able to find the number quickly. In the end, I failed to find the production number, which was supposed to be on an additional slip of paper in the kit. Unfortunately, I couldn't find this label either. It was either missing or accidentally thrown away along with the Christmas paper.
This example shows how closely tasks on a website can be linked to different points of contact in the real world. As good as the online form was optimised, there were key points that were unfortunately neglected to better structure the information provided with the product.
A survey of customers and users, as well as an evaluation of the form with real products, might have shown that in the instructions, the product set number is frequently searched for. The same applies to the production and set number, which could have been stuck as a sticker along with these instructions. This solution could have simplified the task of ordering parts enormously and led to a frustration-free experience. It would have left a lasting positive attitude towards the product and the brand. A positive brand experience is crucial to whether the customer will buy a product from a brand again and is thus significantly linked to the economic success of the company.
Your users as your co-workers
It’s important to involve users during design and development. This specifically refers to people who belong to the target group of your website. The user experience depends on the context; users follow certain goals and perform particular tasks in a certain environment. This means that with a proper understanding of users, tasks and work environments, one will be better able to create content and organise it.
At the beginning of the project, not even the best experts can accurately anticipate every detail of every aspect of human interaction. This is because many requirements only become clear in the process of development. Here, the work progress should be constantly evaluated with the actual users and readjusted if necessary.
Prepare and structure content in a user-centred way
Corporate and business websites often have very similar content, which also shapes the main navigation. Typically, this content is information about the company, products, solutions or applications, information for media and press representatives, careers and, depending on the type of company, investor and sustainability topics. Essential for any website is of course contact and location information.
Even if this content is similar to that of other companies, in the information architecture, there could be industry-specific differences that need to be considered. In particular, it is important to find out if the specific visitors to your website have specific challenges that need to be considered, as this might affect the design of the website.
The following approach is recommended for this:
- Content Inventory: Examine the website to locate and identify existing content.
- Content Audit: Evaluate content usefulness, accuracy, articulation and overall effectiveness for user types and user needs.
- Information Grouping: Define user-centred relationships between content and form content categories that users can understand.
- Taxonomy Development: Develop a user-centred and consistent naming convention to apply to all content pages.
For example, if you want to present your product portfolio, your users may need further sorting criteria in addition to the classic sorted product navigation. It could make sense to structure products with solutions – product-specific as well as application-specific – therefore offering two different access paths to the same product. This will help to meet the different user types and user needs. Additional sorting criteria could also be product highlights generated from sales or access figures. It is important not to make assumptions, but really evaluate the individual behaviour of real users.
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