User Centric and Content First Design.

How to design and build a website that actually meets your users needs.

One of the reasons websites often fail is that organisations simply collate all the information they have about themselves and then publish it on the internet. Hey presto they have a website – box ticked.

After a while they realise that their website is not really performing, failing to provide leads, promoting their brand in the marketplace, or even being something their employees can be inspired and proud of.

So what went wrong?

It is really simple. The time was not spent thinking about who their customers are and what their intent is for searching for the website, and what they want to see or do when they arrive on their site.

It’s all about the users!

Taking a user-centric approach means making sure that all your audience types for the website are fully understood. If your website is a careers website, for example, the primary audience types maybe prospective professional candidates, graduates or school leavers. The secondary audience types maybe parents, careers advisors or tutors.

Once the audience types have been established, it is important to consider why they may want to visit your website, and what their intent maybe once they get there. In the above example, it may be that they want to research what the company does, and to be inspired by opportunities, or it could be that they have met someone at a career fair and want to apply for a graduate programme.

Persona development is a great way of documenting this information. A persona document details an example person, their demographics, their needs and requirements and sometimes even their fears. This provides valuable information to the content, design and marketing teams.

The content framework

Once the users and their needs are understood the content requirements for each audience can be developed further. This would involve organising the hierarchy of the information and the key messages that are likely to inspire each group.

Content first vs design first

This is a highly debated topic. The principle behind taking a content framework approach is that the content framework is developed into a sitemap that organises the content. The content is then developed into digestible chunks for each page, and then the design then is applied to the content to make sure it is presented in the most effective way. The principle is that the content is not compromised by a designers design, and shoe-horned to fit it.

In theory, this makes a lot of sense, however, problems often occur when a client or copywriter cannot visualise how the content may work on a page, or how it needs to be divided up to provide a great user experience.

In a true ‘content first’ approach a user experience designer may start developing wireframes which show how the content and user journeys will be mapped out. A wireframe does not have any design applied but shows how a user will navigate around a website, and what content blocks they will see on each page.

A compromise is to provide high-fidelity wireframes as a guide for the content creators to give them some idea of how the content could be organised.

Creating and applying the design

The designer now has everything they need to really ensure the website is fit for purpose. They know who the users are, they know what the content is and what the key messages are. They can create a design and user experience that presents the content in an effective manner.

Another key benefit is that the designer has the full context of what the content is across the whole website, so a design can be developed with this in mind, providing consistency across pages, and levels of content where required.

Conclusion

This approach is widely considered to be the best approach, however, in some cases where a client is struggling to work without seeing anything visual, applying content to an existing design can still prove to be a quicker and cheaper approach. It is still prudent to keep this approach in mind should it become a struggle to adapt content into a design that is not suitable for the content.

previous article

Website Analytics