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.”