Written on November 26, 2016 by Stephan Wehner.
Websites aren’t a one-size-fits-all.
Different design elements on your website appeal to different people – if you hit the right spots, they’ll resonate with you and your product. Which font family, which colour palette, which layout do you use? How to organize your content? Should you use photos or illustrations?
Your audience will most likely be used to a certain style of presentation, and if you don't follow that style they will not feel comfortable on your site. This is a bit like music, people have tastes and expectations.
This is not about your personal preferences and likes, unless you are very similar to your audience. Often I hear web designers asking their clients, "How do you like this design?" or, "Do you prefer this layout?" — but it's not about you, it's about your customers!
Some of this is certainly fashion, some years some particular way of doing something will be preferred, and many sites do it like that, some other year it will be something else. For example, here's a short article about website design trends of the year 2005.
So how do we think about this?
First, how exactly can you identify the types of people that visit your website? And once you have that, what can you do to cater to their wants, needs, and tastes? What are the design options?
To make things simple, and to give you some ideas that may apply to your audience, we are going to discuss three different user profiles. These profiles probably won’t identify the specific kinds of customers you’ll get, but you can glean a bit about what to look out for. Also they will give you a broad idea of who could possibly visit your website.
At this very point of time, Casual Joe has plopped himself on a couch. And he is browsing your website.
To some extent, we are all Casual Joes — we check our phones while riding the bus, or while waiting for a friend at the cafe, or while relaxing at home.
For the most part, the Casual Joe isn’t bothered with making serious considerations while casually browsing. He wants to be entertained. Or perhaps learn something simple. He isn’t in the mood to buy things, or learn complex concepts about the universe while waiting for his coffee.
Do not underestimate the importance of courting the Casual Joe – they may not be prospective customers now, but if you find a way to keep them coming back, they may just become your most loyal followers. Their numbers alone warrant some effort on your behalf to capture their attention.
Yes if: You have a strong social media presence.
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites are the go-to places for people who want to burn time. If your website has a decent presence on social media, you may end up in their news feed while they casually scroll through. Thus, you may see more visitors from this type of user profile.
Yes if: You produce online content.
This is closely related with the first point – if you produce articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, infographics etc. these are likely to make their rounds on social media, and when they do, you pull Casual Joes to your website. If you’ve ever read an article from Facebook while doing your funny business on the loo, this will make sense to you.
Besides using basic design principles (which you can learn more about over here), there’s one specific area you want to look for – the ease of navigating content. You may notice that many news websites or entertainment websites like Buzzfeed make it very easy for their readers to go from one article to the next. This isn’t done by accident – these websites know that if they want to turn a casual reader into a loyal one, they have to give them reason to stay on the website a bit longer.
To do this, you could use design elements such as a ‘Trending’ menu at the side which allows user to see the hottest pages on your website, or a ‘You may also be interested in…’ section at the end of your articles. If your website has blog posts/articles, a featured image for each article can help attract users to read what’s on display.
Spacing between paragraphs is especially important to make their reading experience easier and more enjoyable. It would also be wise to pay special attention to mobile optimisation – most Casual Joes are hooked to their phones, not their desktop computers.
Reddit, anyone? These are nice, non-committal colours. Not shades of grey, but close enough to not throw anyone off.
The Granny is an admirable user profile – they’ve chosen to tackle a world of technology completely foreign to them, and unfortunately, that can sometimes mean websites quickly become overwhelming and confusing for them. That ‘hamburger’ icon at the side which opens up the menu? Not intuitive and completely gibberish. Text too small? Gah.
Yes if: Your target market is elderly folks.
This is obvious – if your product is targeted towards elderly individuals, you will find the Granny on your website more than usual.
Yes if: You offer a ‘classic’ service.
The Granny may not be the most experienced web user, but they at least know how to use ‘the Google’. If you are the kind of service that an elderly individual may require, you can expect to see them – plumbers, electricians, pizza delivery, online grocery delivery etc. This is especially true if you offer a local service in an elderly area.
The aims here are to minimize confusion and maximize readability.
As mentioned earlier, the use of design elements such as the ‘hamburger’ menu icon aren’t exactly intuitive – studies show that most individuals don’t even click on them. Burying your menu with the icon may be tidy, but will limit navigability, especially for Grannies.
Another common pitfall is overly-complicated navigation menus. For websites catering to Grannies, you might not want to bombard these users with choices that most won’t even care about – simplify and limit your navigation. There are few things as daunting as a 20-item navigation menu.
This is a fairly obvious point, but make sure your text is big and readable. It is very frustrating, particularly for older users, to have to squint and read small text. This is especially true for mobile web pages – you may assume that Grannies don’t surf the web on their phones, but this is becoming less true. Again, picture your own grandmother visiting an ugly non-optimized web page on her new iPhone – it’s near impossible to read the text, and a few Grannies may not even know how to zoom in to view text on a web page if needed.
These are friendly colours, whereby beauty's rose may never die, but not so fresh as to herald to the gaudy spring.
The Analyst is the direct opposite of the Casual Joe. They aren’t on your website to play around – they want to do some serious business. Either they’re looking to buy a product, or they seek some serious and well-thought out information.
If the Casual Joe is sitting on the couch while viewing your website, then the Analyst is very much in front of her desktop computer, fingers on the mouse, and reading glasses on.
Yes if: Your product is complex and expensive.
Imagine you’re going to buy a new laptop. Do you casually browse through a few laptops and make a choice in a few minutes? Well, some people do that, but for the most of us, we sit down and think it through thoroughly. We compare our options rigorously – a laptop is an expensive investment. If you sell products that require a lot of thought and a significant financial investment, then expect the Analyst to pay a visit to your website.
Yes if: Your online content is deep.
Some articles are meant to be read casually for entertainment. But sometimes, you may produce online content (e.g. articles, videos) that make a user stop in their tracks and think. Maybe you own a website catering to students. Or maybe you write how-to guides online. Whatever it is, if your content is deep and rich, either Analyst will flock to your for entertainment, or a Casual Joe may put on an Analyst hat for a change while reading what you have to say.
Longer paragraphs are more acceptable for this kind of user profile, but you still want to be wary of putting off readers with a ‘wall of text’. For this reason, breaking up your text with pictures/graphs/illustrations can help improve readability for this kind of user.
When selling products, you may need to design graphics that help compare between options – Analysts want to examine everything, and making that easier for them is a huge boon.
Overall, your goal here is to use design elements to make it easy to process copious amounts of information.
Strong colours, without ambiguity. Compatible with graphics-heavy games, enhanced 20/20 eyesight and certainly go well with the Safari rubber band.
As you can see there are many options, and many possibilities. That's the nice thing about design, and visual design in particular! Play around and find what works. When you have a suitable setup, you can try out different approaches, working on one part, then the other, until .... there doesn't need to be an end, the web design world is one of continuous updates.
So, which user's are you building your website for? Let me know.
If you’re a small business interested in coming to grips with the basics of web design, do sign up for our free email course: 6 Mistakes Small Business Websites Make.