Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Design Process and Evaluation

The priority of a Web site is to inform your users and convince them to user your services and keep them coming back for more. At a high level, there are some key items to consider before even starting the design of a website.
  1. Provide engaging and relevant content to an appropriate audience.
  2. Understand your users’ requirements.
  3. Ensure your content is organized according to your users’ expectations.
  4. Guarantee completeness and accuracy of user requirements by involving the user.
  5. Set goals of the Web site before beginning the design process.
Provide content that is engaging, relevant, and appropriate to the audience
Content is the information provided on a Web site. Studies have found that content is the most critical element of a Web site and that content is more important than navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity. Afterall, that is why a user is visiting your site, not to look at pretty pictures, but to learn about your company, what you do, and how you can help them succeed. Do not waste resources driving users to content that does not meet their needs. Do so can annoy the user and drive them away from your site entirely.

Understand your users’ requirements
The more we communicate with our end users, the more we can understand their needs and the needs of potential users thereby increasing the probablility of a successful Web site. Communication can be carried out through customer support lines (Help Desk), surveys, and interviews as well as through, sales people, focus/user groups, and tradeshows. There is no shortage of opinion when it comes to Web design and successful Web sites utilize information gathered from a minumum of four different sources. The information gathered can then be used to build “use cases” for the company providing a valuable reference to users changing needs over time which may extend beyond just web-related needs and into product desires.

Ensure your content is organized according to your users’ expectations
Usability is defined as the users’ perception of how consistent, efficient, productive, organized, easy to use, intuitive, and straightforward it is to accomplish tasks within a system. It is important to fully develop an understanding of user expectation through analysis and research. Users often react to sites based on their past experiences and studies have shown users act on their own expectations even when on-screen directions counter them.

Familiar formats and navigation layout makes it easier for a user to learn your site. Generally, visitors don’t often return to your site unless the content is frequently updated and sought after for regular consumption. So the reoccurance of users visiting your site is limited in number, a familiar design scheme allows for first-time users to learn your site efficiently.

Guarantee completeness and accuracy of user requirements by involving the user
A basic principle of effective web design is to keep the design focused on your user’s needs. User studies have become a widely accepted method in the development of usable sites and is the most valuable resource when trying to improve completeness and accuracy of site requirements. Not only can it help in development of new features, but it can help to eliminate unused features.
User involvement may help to determine the content and tools offered on a web site, but generally has been shown to be an ineffective resource in actual design decisions. Therefore, users tests are helpful in determining what to put on your site, but not how to display it.

Set goals of the Web site before beginning the design process
Setting the primary goals of your Web site is vital before starting design work. Whether it is to educate, inform, entertain, sell, etc. will affectively dictate your design. A good set of goals will determine the audience, content, and function, as well as the site’s unique look and feel. It is a also good idea to communicate the goals to, and develop consensus for the site goals from, management as well as those working on the Web site.

Sources:
http://www.usability.gov
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/ http://www.mckillen.net/Usability_Testing_Quick_Reference/Step16/Extra%20reading/Usability%20standards%20for%20website%20development.doc

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