Learn About Your Users
To design a site that works for you and your users, you have to understand your intended audiences. They may include anyone—customers, consumers, researchers, or the public.
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When designing a successful site, you cannot rely on assumptions about your users and their behavior. You need to verify or challenge those assumptions. To learn about users' realities, you need to get out and meet them, work with them, and involve them in helping you to understand:
- Their information needs and level of knowledge about the subject matter
- How they think about, group, and organize the information
- What they expect to find on your site
- Their level of experience with the Web and similar types of sites
- How they work with information, such as how much they want to read
By working with users, you can also find out about the technology they have available to them
- Their internet connection
- What screen resolution they use
- The physical environment they work in
You can also gather realistic scenarios and learn what makes a website work or not work for them.
The following techniques can gather useful information from and about users:
- Usability testing typically involves asking participants to find information or accomplish tasks while you observe actual behaviors and listen to participant's comments. It can happen on site or remotely, with tester and participant in different locations.
- Contextual interviews allow you to observe and listen to users’ actual behaviors in their own environment with the technology they use. In contextual interviews, the interviewer and user are in the same physical location, engaging in an informal dialogue.
- Online surveys collect user feedback, experiences, and opinions but not behaviors. You may get a lot of self-reported responses and these users may be located anywhere.
- Individual interviews are typically one user at a time and are good for self-reported attitudes and experiences. They do not collect actual behavior. They are rich in data because you can follow up on questions.
- Focus groups involve small group discussions moderated by trained facilitators. They typically involve eight to 12 people in the same location. This technique is useful for self-reporting, but does not capture actual behaviors.
- Card sorting forms the information architecture of your site. You can use cards or a Web-based application to complete the test.