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4 Ways to Design for Your Audience: A Primer in Usability [Part I]

This is the beginning of a four-part series in designing for your audience.

The UX War

The concept of perfecting the user experience is nothing if not controversial, especially with the recent propensity to marginalise the contributions of UX experts and dismissing concerns that their responsibilities require special attention.

The backlash against the UX community contends that designing for the user is probably the most fundamental of all concerns – from wireframe to market testing – and there isn’t really a need to separate this aspect of development from the developer’s job description.

Unsurprisingly, this sort of thinking has led a concerted defense from the UX community (arguably one of the most well-written is mounted by Leisa Reichelt over at Disambiguity).

 

Are you falling behind?

Warring schools of thought aside, though – it’s become quite obvious that usability and interface design has become a fundamental aspect of development. If you started developing back in ’96 or if you’re a print designer, you’re probably particularly attune to how far we’ve come in this respect.

With the advent of a hundred other potential considerations though – from colour psychology to studies in eye movement – designing for the user is a task that becomes ever more complicated (and probably, in our opinion, does warrant its own salaried position).

If you’re ever-so-slightly behind, you’re probably wondering what to consider when designing for your audience. We’ve compiled four helpful tips to get you started (this post explores #1, with the rest forthcoming in separate posts).

 

1.    Prioritising responsive design

Simply put, responsive design is all about designing a flexible layout that works across as many browsers and devices as possible: that’s your iPhone, Android, MacBook, tablet computer and everything in-between.

Does your website do this already? With mobile devices ever-more the “surfboard” of choice, procrastinating (or failing to see its importance) will reduce visits to your site and even more frighteningly, ensure that your content doesn’t get seen.

How does it work?

Starting with the basics…

First, implement media queries in the CSS3 syntax (we’ll annoyingly point you to the documentation for further reading) in conjunction with a flexible, grid-based layout. Permutations of print-based layouts seem to be multiplying everyday (i.e. 960), so choose one that works for your design and run with it.

Onto progressive enhancement.

Second, design a basic website with minimal JS and then optimise it for features available on the mobile platforms. You can either use browser detection or device detection to change the display, or you can utilise a library like JQuery mobile to fine-tune the appearance of your site on mobile devices. The take-away point: start simple and build from there.

That’s it for now. Come back for the next post in this series. We’ll be covering “Getting from A to B: information architecture explained.”