Lost in Translation
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If that was all Greek to you, don’t worry. To most, it’s certainly an unknown language. They never would have known the difference. In the truest sense of the phrase, this is how it feels when a technology novice tries to utilize, market or even improve a website. It’s classic “failure to communicate.” And if you happen to think Twitter is merely the sound of annoying laughter or you still check your Friendster profile daily, dub yourself a tech newbie.
No comprende? (Spanish, yes, but you get the drift.) It’s pretty scary when you realize the Internet is not a fad and is not only here to stay, but it will likely build strength. And that is, unfortunately, what’s happening with most websites. Instead of helping their hosts, many sites are working against them. And it doesn’t take a tech geek to figure out that’s not good for business. “Nothing will lose customer trust faster than a poorly designed or unusable website,” said Nick Finck, director of user experience at Seattle-based Web-design firm Blue Flavor.
Your crash course in Web fundamentals begins right here, right now.
What’s the Use?
Whether the site needs a complete overhaul or a few minor tweaks, it is essential to consider its user population. “Website usability relies heavily on understanding who the users are and listening to them,” Finck said. Though this can be accomplished in many ways, including focus groups and surveys, sitting down and talking with customers about their experiences has worked best for Finck.
Robin Williams, author of The Non-Designer’s Design Book, goes one step further. She suggested having someone who’s never been to your site navigate each page in front of you, pretending they are your target audience. “Your job is to put duct tape over your mouth and tie your hands behind your back—just watch,” Williams emphasized. Although those measures may be slightly extreme, it all goes back to one crucial point. “The key is to identify the target users you wish to focus on and design your website to best accommodate them,” Finck affirmed. The bonus? These information-gathering techniques are often budget-friendly, he said.
Immersion technique #1: Get three to five people together and watch them navigate your site. Don’t help. Instead, take copious notes and have them detail where they get tripped up. “Put this information together into a cohesive list for yourself [that includes] exactly what you think needs to be done, and exactly what you discovered from watching potential visitors [surf] your site,” Williams said.