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

This is the third part in a four-part series about designing for your audience.

3. Design Psychology 101

There is more to the human-computer interface that is immediately obvious. In the most elementary terms, perception of colour, positioning of elements, and positive or negative visual space can provoke a jarring visit or an easy browse.

It’s the considered forethought of a committed design-development team that helps the best digital agencies walk this fine line – and a thorough understanding of design psychology is arguably the most important weapon in their arsenal.

The lone developer faces the absence of a designer to help provide this input; and may not be able to easily distinguish mere decoration from deliberately-placed psychological stimuli.

Beyond icon sets and stock photography

In recent years, developers have been spoiled for choice with pre-designed and coded elements that provide everything from off-the-shelf navigation bars to twitter feeds.

It would be overly simplistic to entirely dismiss this practice (some designers choose to sell top-quality work on sites like these) but it has created a tendency to favour hopelessly prescriptive layouts over carefully planned and well-executed and designs.

In this space, we’ve introduced some of the best ways to free developers/teams/agencies from a dependency on relentlessly rounded corners and shiny “web 2.0” buttons – and move towards design competence.

Starting with the basics…

1.    Familiarise yourself with the bastions of print design. An oft-overlooked aspect of web design is that a tremendous volume of print work is not only available as interesting studies in how design psychology is implemented; but also provides a gateway to another perspective on space, positioning and colour.

The budding centerspread designer is tasked with flipping through hundreds of back editions to study typography and clever use of negative space – and it’s a similarly useful endeavour for the aspiring web designer or developer.

Relevant resources

There is one magazine (we’re talking about the print version) that stands out: Rolling Stone. We can also recommend News Page Designer as a long-adored reference.

2.    Commit yourself to studying colour theory. Colours are not only inextricably tied to mood, but can provoke different behaviours from the user. We’re all keenly aware of the difference in emotional response a powdered blue can provoke from a nautical, navy blue; but colour theory is a deeper pond. Paying close attention to the combination of colours creates harmony; and where there is harmony, there is a scheme isn’t boring or disconcerting.

Relevant resources

Get back to the basics with Color Matters. When you’re ready to start integrating theory into practice, try our favourite: Color Scheme Designer.

3.    Use space creatively. The best web designs do an exceptional job of using the first principle listed here and treat the webpage as something far removed from a “site.” The space can become a book with well-implemented horizontal scrolling; or a cascading accordion with animated HTML5 elements all the way down. Ask yourself: are you thinking creatively about how space can be used? Can you remove yourself from the paradigm of a vertically scrolling page with a floating navigation bar?

 

That’s it for now. Come back for the next post in this series. We’ll be covering “R&D and In-Between.”

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SEO: Where To Start?

Many people ask me what my job is; “I’m doing SEO”, I reply, and I immediately know what will come after. ‘What is SEO?’, they ask, just as I would expect.

SEO, technically means search engine optimization. Basically, it helps to increase a website’s visibility to search engines, such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing. For many businesses today, especially the businesses that are purely online, I cannot stress more why search engine marketing is so necessary and important.

But where to start?

It all begins with words typed into a search box. Keyword research is one of the most important and valuable activities in the field of search engine marketing. Ranking for the right keywords can get the right visitors to your site:

Generate keyword ideas
Before jumping into keyword research, you need to ask yourself:
1. What are the relevant keywords to your website content and your business?
2. Will users be happy with what they find once they land on your site related to those keywords?
3. Will this traffic result in any financial return if they convert to a customer once landing on your site?

If your answer to all of these questions is a clear ‘Yes’, then proceed.

You should brainstorm and generate a list for your keywords, which includes branded keywords and other terms that people would use to search for your site. Also remember to check your competitors’ website so that you know what other businesses in the same niche are targeting. The recommended tools to check on your competitors are:
Open Site Explorer
Ahrefs

Fetch data
Now you can head over to the Google Keyword Research Tool to look up each keyword’s search volumes and competition level. Here are the basic metrics that you need to look at:

Search volumes
In the search volumes drop down menu, you can either look at global search volumes or narrow down to a specific national market, which really depends on your target market and where they located.
If your keywords have low search volumes, then that’s the gap in the market. If there are several variation words/phrases showing up but you don’t have them in your list, then there’s a need for your site to create content around those keywords.

Match type
There are 3 options for you to choose from: broad match, phrase match and exact match. Each of them gives you quite a different database response.

Broad match: gather data from the keyword synonyms, related searches and other relevant variations
Phrase match: wherever a keyword is used in a phrase and close variants of that phrase
Exact match: you will get results of just that exact term and close variations of the exact term.

Competition
The competition level (the green bars) gives a generic idea of how competitive your target keywords are. Some keywords are too competitive to go after as they are dominated by big companies with a considerable advertising budget that you may not have, which alerts you to think twice about your target keywords. If so, the recommended strategy is to go after the long-tail search phrases (more information about long-tail search to follow in a future blog post).

Data filtering and Mining
Once you finish the research, you can download it into a CSV spreadsheet. Now you will have accumulated lots of data to use. Based on your target market and experience, you can now weed out the irrelevant words and focus on mining the data and use them for your website and business.

 

If you have more suggestions for keyword research tactics or any questions, share them in the comments! We’d love to hear from you!

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

This is the second part in a four-part series about designing for your audience.

2. Getting from A to B: information architecture explained

Information architecture, as (deceptively) complicated as the phrase may sound, is the careful art of organising, structuring and labelling a website to improve a website’s usability.

In practice, it’s being prescient when considering the path a given user will take through a website to achieve a particular goal; and designing the landscape of the site to make that journey as smooth and satisfying as possible.

The choice is clear: create a digital landscape on the fly to speed up production time but risk constructing an experience where users disengage quickly; or spend additional and well-allocated time understanding how your users think, what actions they may take as a result, and design accordingly.

What’s wrong with a simple navigation bar?

UX has a fair share of detractors, mostly from developers that would prefer to label these concerns as impractical extensions of pre-existing responsibilities (at best) or a cynical move to increase chargeable hours (at worst). After all, isn’t a simple navigation bar enough?

The digital landscape is fairly new territory, and as such, we’ve managed to achieve an unfortunate degree of distance between how we regard a user’s journey in a real space as opposed to one undertaken on an online platform.

The art of curating a museum exhibit or a gallery is rarely questioned; yet the parallel (if imperfect) is striking: a person enters a new space, seeking to be moved, transformed or informed, and this is achieved by arranging and displaying objects in a way that creates a supportive experience.

So how do you create a sense of “flow”?

It helps to start with a simple definition: flow is the vaguely energising feeling you achieve when you’re completely immersed in a task. When ability is perfectly matched to the challenge a task presents, you create a mental state that is profoundly satisfying. Good design provokes a sense of flow by minimising confusion or pressure.

Starting with the basics…

1. Define the user journey with your client. During the initial consultation, request clients to write a narrative of the average user’s journey through the site (and if possible, propose five different problems or objectives for alternate scenarios).

In each case:

i.    Who is visiting the site?
ii.   What are their objectives?
iii.  What makes their journey successful?

2. Always ensure the user knows where they are; and offer clear opportunities to return to other pages. Ensure that your navigation reminds the user where they’re positioning in the digital landscape; and take special care to provide simple-to-locate opportunities to return to other pages of interest. Make sure your navigation is a consistent point-of-reference throughout the site.

Onto progressive enhancement…

Try and integrate user activity metrics into your development process. It’s not enough to speculate how a user will interact with your design, and fortunately there are several scripts that will track and relay specific user actions to your backend. Consider using a service like ClickTale: a service which records mouse movements; provides movement heatmaps; and form analytics.

That’s it for now. Come back for the next post in this series. We’ll be covering “Design Psychology 101.”

Press calls

Selling To The Media – where to start

Selling in to the media continues to be a scary and daunting task that most PRs will shift on to someone else if they have the chance.

The thought of contacting journalists on your call sheet with only a 30 second window to get their attention and pitch a story to them is a challenge, especially when you don’t know them. The fear and sometimes experience of a less than polite journalist, leading to no story and the partial destruction of your soul, would leave the best of us scarred.

However if we take the time to consider why these experiences can be so negative, then we can quickly see a way to turn them around.

Journalists are people just like us with work pressure and deadlines that we need to understand and cater to. As much as journalists hold the power, deep down they know that we provide them with the stories they need, and that we are as much a part of the news process as they are.

There are a few things we need to consider before calling a journalist that will dramatically increase the chances of a pleasant and successful sell in:

  • Timings
  • Deadlines
  • Publications
  • Position
  • Exclusives
  • Ways In

Timings

For most newspapers in the morning between 9:30 and 10:30 gives them enough time to get in to the office before the editorial team go to morning conference, where they pitch stories for the day.  Like all of us when we have the time we are much happier to take a call and will be less distracted.

Deadlines

Just like us journalists work to deadlines, and theirs are especially tight. Afternoons for daily press are a manic when journalists are fighting time to get that story finished. Calling at this time will almost definitely result in you being rushed and unless you have something truly amazing; a failed sell in. PR Web really grasp the media perspectives in their post 10 media pitching tips for new entrepreneurs.

Publications

If you read a selection of the daily newspapers with a mixture of tabloids and broadsheets you will quickly start to notice the variation in style and themes that are covered in each,  what stories are trending as well as which reporters cover which type of stories.

Use this information to your advantage and pitch specifically to that publication, even if it means changing an element of your story. By doing this you will ensure that you are targeting the right readership, which is what all journalists are striving to achieve. Using lines like ‘I have something I think your readers will love’ is great, but it also has to be true. Sending a press release over email is ok but calling up and establishing contact enables you to really stress the important elements of your story, as Manminder Dhillon confirms in her post  ‘Why Even Bother Pitching to the Media?’.

Positions

When you call a news desk you are most likely going to speak to reporters who feed stories up to the editors and so on.  Look for previous work of that journalist and explain why this story would work for them, and how you read the last story they covered; it never hurts to pay a compliment to someone’s work.  At the end of the day a journalist aim is to get as many by lines as they can, so point out how your story will get them there.

Exclusives

A great way to ensure a sell in is by using exclusives, think of your story as a cucumber that you can cut up in to sections to get as much coverage from your A list publications.  Make your story three dimensional and select specific elements that will attract that publication:

  • Video clips – interviews/ footage
  • Photos
  • Interviews with key people – spokesperson
  • Audio clips
  • Quotes
  • Sight of Research/ Survey Data

It is important to make sure all your exclusives are available in a format that your target publication accepts, so do your research before hand. It is not only having an exclusive element that is vital but communicating it in the time you have. Make sure that if you have someone key to the story available that you mention it and make clear the offerings you are willing to make.

See Mashables post on leveraging social media and technology for pitches for more advice on selling exclusives. How to Take Your PR Pitches To The Next Level.

Ways In

It is often the case that a story that your client or company wants you to get coverage on is lacking in newsworthy content and is not a strong news story. In these cases be creative, consider stronger stories coming up that you could ride it in on the back of or slots that journalists notoriously find hard to fill, for instance letters pages and diary columns. It could be that it would work better as a picture story with a grabbing caption, turning your non story in to a great story.

The ideal outcome of any sell in is that initial ‘yes’ that gets you another 90 seconds of time to pitch the really important aspects of your story to a journalist, but overall it is getting that personal email rather than ‘newsdesk@ . . .’ that is a polite way of accepting your press release in to a lost cyber world.

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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.”