Monday, June 2, 2008

Design Decisions vs. Audience Considerations

Deep down below the layers of interface, CSS, HTML, and XML—down where only the geekiest among us roam—everything comes down to this: it’s all zeroes and ones. On or off. The digital switch.

Though interaction and conversion becomes a bit more complicated at the point the interface meets the visitor, though there are a few more shades of gray, in the end it comes down to the same thing: yes or no. You will succeed in attracting and engaging your audience… or you won’t. Your audience will visit your site looking for information they want to find or a product they are interested in. If they don’t find it, or if you don’t otherwise engage them, they’ll leave.

We know this, and yet the attraction of designing for ourselves, because we know best, or simply giving the client what he or she wants, after all they are paying, tempt us regularly. As web designers, we have a unique and thorny task. How do we present the information we most want a visitor to see while simultaneously serving the visitor the content they came for? The two may not be the same, so an awareness of who our audience is as well as why our audience is there should be considered before a single design decision is made.

If you know who your target audience is, you can tailor your site’s look and feel, content, and action areas to appeal to your audience and draw them in. If you know what your site visitors want, you can use that information to mutual benefit. Site visitors will leave having found what they came for, and—if you have done your homework—you will have gotten the response you wanted from them. This may be their contact information. It may be a product purchase. If you are really lucky, the site visitor will sign up to receive email and you will have a chance to forge an ongoing relationship.

We all know that site visitors prefer a site that is easier to use. An optimized site will have more traffic. A site that is cross-browser compatible will carry the same message and branding to everyone who looks at it, without unpleasant and unexpected behavior. Usability, Standards and Content Optimization are, at the end of the day, also audience considerations.

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