Design for Your Users

When I design a website for a client, we start by discussing aspects that don’t seem to be design related at all: the goals and strategies of the organization, how a website fits into those strategies, who the target audience is, and so forth. This is the context in which a design needs to function, and understanding the context is crucial for a successful design.

Many organizations have at least some grasp of the people that constitute their target audience. The more details that can be added to that profile, the more targeted and engaging the design can be. Creating personas is a strategy employed in marketing. The idea is that you distill each type of customer into a singular archetype. You give that archetypical customer a name, a family, an occupation, age, gender, and brand relationship. The more detailed the persona, the better you can market to your audience demographic represented by that archetype. Brands with large customer bases will have multiple personas, and their communications should be directed to specific personas.

Defining the target audiences is similar to creating personas: they direct the communication, communication that a website is a part of. Working with small and medium sized organizations, we narrow their users into two to three prioritized target audiences. The desires, preferences, and browsing habits of these target audiences then inform the design.

Every aspect of the design serves these users. We should always be asking ourselves, “How does this affect our target audience? Does it help or hinder them?” This is a hard concept, and it carries significant implications. It means that the client’s subjective preferences don’t matter, only the target audience’s preferences matter. It means that the designer is more than decorating a page, the designer is translating the organization’s ideas, concepts, and identity to communicate effectively with the target audience, to simultaneously meet the client’s goals and the target users’ needs.

In a successful website, the users are the ones that matter. Design for them.