When approaching a new website design or refresh, there are more aspects of the process that need attention besides design elements like color or type. Planning is required to ensure that your website design elevates your brand and gives the user a voice. I would venture to guess that a large fraction of designing for your users doesn’t have any traditional design involvement. Understanding what you are building, who you’re building it for, and your user’s expectations inform the physical design just as much as imagery and layout. Use these recommendations on how to plan a website design that your users will love. Who knows? You just might fall in love with the process of planning it.
Know and Understand Your Target Audience
The first task in the design process is to gather and analyze user data to determine your primary demographic. This can be done via analytics if you have an existing web presence, or focus groups and word of mouth information if you’re new to the web. In either case, you have some information about your target demographic that’s grounded in fact. Knowing and not making conjectures about which group of people are responsible for the largest and second-largest percentage of revenue is an important first step in laying the groundwork for a successful design.
The goal is to build for and strengthen the relationship you have with your primary demographic but to enhance the experience of your secondary demographic, while not actively trying to alienate other users. Knowing that you’re attempting to attract engaged couples, for example, and tailoring your design choices toward that demographic will go a long way to ensure your website is clear, appealing, and mitigate any potential loss in conversion as a result of a change in website design.
Each group of people informs aspects of design including colors, type choices, imagery, and layout just to name a few. But they also inform physical interaction with the website as well. Baby Boomers on average need some hand-holding when navigating websites, especially those that are content-heavy, while the 25-35 age group would be more adept at website navigation, but also expect certain considerations by default. Age or disability may also limit your color palette or font selections. If your target demographic are dyslexic your font choices are fairly limited to ensure that they can read and navigate without issue.
Many people may see a dip in conversion or sales because the users are completely taken aback by the change; this is normal for a new website design. The successfully planned design will ensure that you bounce back from that downward spike. The number of design considerations that are directly impacted by your demographic(s) is broad and ever-changing, but it’s never a good idea to design for yourself or because “it looks cool” when your driving force behind your new design is to increase user engagement or conversions.
Before you even speak with a designer, it’s imperative to understand the goal of your new website or even why you need a new website. Understanding the purpose of your website and/or why your current website isn’t successful is important in preventing similar pain points and issues down the line.
I typically ask clients one simple question, “Why?” Why do you need a new design? Really think about that, because “it looks old” does not necessarily make a difference if you aren’t sure why you need a website, or who your users are.
Your website might be out of date or isn’t mobile-friendly, but that isn’t a good answer to that question. Sure, updating things and making sure you’re mobile-ready is a fantastic way to improve user retention in the short term, but it’s just a temporary bandage. Your company should know what the goals of your website might be: user account registration, sales, interaction, sharing, etc. Obviously, there isn’t just one point of conversion on a website or one reason a user might visit, but knowing that along with your target demographic(s) can provide insight into how the users will interact with your new design, how you can provide easy access to your point of conversion, and funnel users without additional effort.
The Website is NOT for You!
It’s for your users. Of course, you have control over the design in as much as it should follow your brand guidelines, but beyond that, the fact that YOU like a slider or YOU love the color orange doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to include those elements, especially if it could harm user interaction and retention. You need to think about your users first and push personal preference to the wayside, keeping in mind that you are most likely not in your target demographic or age range.
One of the most common follies of new website design is to fall into a trend. Every year there are predictions for the next, and there are endless lists of trends based on the most popular website designs from the big five: Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. Those design decisions are based on data and planning and are made with a purpose. Apple may have a fatty animated header which informs the current trend, but adding this element to your website because it is the current trend or because it’s “cool,” and not because it improves the user experience, flow, or retention is a mistake. I’m going to go out on a limb and say unless you’re Apple, your product is not an Apple product. If your main source of revenue is user signups, that should be the first thing visible to a user on all pages in some respect (unless they’re logged in). If the first thing a person sees when visiting your website is unrelated to making that happen, your design has failed and your users will bounce.
Think about your users. Do you need to waste dollars on an app-like experience, or pages upon pages of dense content when a single HTML page and two paragraphs will get the job done? Be mindful of your goals and avoid trends to provide a more purposeful and timeless user experience.
Don’t Neglect the Content
Just because your design is in good shape doesn’t mean that your website will yield positive results. It’s important to consider content, content flow, content interaction, and client expectation when designing a new website. At a micro level, not considering “real” content may change the design in a way that isn’t favorable, pushing elements to new lines or cramping blocks that rely on white space to be successful. Since no content is created equal, an extra check in advance ensuring that your design and flow still function as expected, once the site is built, is greatly beneficial.
At a macro level, there are two reasons that your users are visiting your site: to get information and to do a thing. If either of those elements is abstracted by design, your website is a failure. In fact, content typically informs users enough to make an educated decision about what they want, where to get it, and how to get there. Providing content that is explicitly tailored to your users and your goals will provide an optimal user experience and direct and limit the design to bring focus to those goals. We’re not just talking about the “About Page” but information blocks and navigation, too. The biggest pain point for user interaction and user experience is just not being able to find the information they need at a glance.
Content in many ways is as important or more important than the design itself. The design may direct your users with proper formatting, call to actions, buttons, layout choices, etc, but content provides users with the ability to get the information they need and convert. The optimal and most direct path for a user helps to avoid frustration and cognitive dissonance.
Design is more than just pixels. The design gives a website purpose and an inherited understanding of users. Design controls user flow and direction. Design should build upon your brand and content and elevate the user experience on the web and mobile devices. Working design-first for your own personal tastes without an understanding of your users, the goals, or content your design will fail, no matter how “beautiful” your website might be.
Now, you’re ready to think about the future and the goals of your company, make informed decisions about your new website or app design, and really come to the table with a sound, rational reason for that amazing design.