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The first commandment of good UX: Know thy users!

By: Alyce Lythall
Date: January, 2014
File under: Articles

We recently completed a project for a client which at first appeared to be a fairly typical project: they came to us and provided us with a site to test, talked us through the potential problems they believed the site had, told us who their audience was, and away we went.

When looking at the site, we were immediately struck by the content, function and design; it did not seem to match with the age, behaviour and expectations of what we understood of the target audience. This was further cemented when we began testing the site with the target users: the site simply did not resonate with them at all. Whilst a great source of information, our client was unsure as to why actual use and uptake of the site was limited. One thing was clear to us: in the process of production and development of this site, the users themselves had been underestimated.

Despite the enormous number of websites, tools, apps and projects that exist in the digital space, too often users get left out of the picture.  It is easy to assume you know everything about them: you think you know their behaviours, their preferences, their expectations and even their technical abilities. But humans are dynamic and complicated creatures. To assume you understand your users from your site analytics, ABS data or an old piece of research is an underestimation. Unless you have actually spoken to them, consulted with them and tested your site with them, it is impossible to understand them. And this in turn negatively impacts on conversions, traffic and the relationship with your user base.

Get to know your users, and know them well. Learn to know and love their diversity, behaviours, expectations and their relationship with your service or product.  There are many methods you can utilise to understand your target audience, for example:

  • perform contextual inquiries
  • undertake requirements gathering
  • develop (and regularly update) personas
  • conduct regular surveys and user interviews
  • perform usability testing with them early in the development process and often there on after

Remember, as 52 weeks of UX said in 2010, “You are not your user”. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your site is, or how seamlessly the interactions and functionality have been implemented or how great your SEO is; if you don’t understand your users and haven’t designed for them, you will never foster a great recurring relationship and good experience.

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