Thinking of website re-design – use data and research to build a better user experience

Companies should not get their websites re-designed just because the sites are outdated and should look better. They should investigate regarding how well a new design would meet their business objectives. Even more importantly, the new design should meet as many requirements of the website’s users as possible. You should focus on making the site work better for both your users and your business.

While getting a new website made, you should be confident about the user experience that it’s going to provide and that confidence can only come from the collection of appropriate user data. It’s important to remember that how your users look at your website and how you look at it are often very different.

Once this information is gathered, it can be useful for arriving at a strategy. Who you talk to, the sources you gather data from and how you align whatever you have learned with users’ and your organization’s goals is significant in this respect.

Since 9 out of 10 respondents of a survey agree that “good user experience just makes sense” (Source: Econsultancy), gathering and analyzing user data before a website re-design is of utmost importance.

Additionally, if your website is rather ‘heavy’ and takes a long time to load, it is important to re-design it to make it as ‘light’ as possible. It has been found that 40% people would abandon a web page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load (Source: Econsultancy). The change in website bounce rate increases to 100% when a page takes 4 seconds or more to load (Source: Mobile Joomla).

User-centered Design: How to come up with design ideas by interpreting user data

In some form or the other, almost every company collects user data. After all, it’s quite sensible to try to comprehend what users want before designing anything meaningful for them. User centered design uses contextual data, which is the most appropriate for the purpose. Google analytics, questionnaires and online surveys are easy to collect for many users within a short period and are among the most popular forms of user data. These can help take the real users’ voices into account and provide valuable insights into what users like or don’t. However, the information is not sufficient to improve user experience and provides only small parts of the users’ stories. Most data are focused on end results and the roots of the issues remain unseen. So, if you focus on only the most apparent issues, the problems may appear to have been resolved, but could lead on to different problems later. Some of such problems are as follows:

  • Seemingly unrelated functions that already exist might be broken by a new solution.
  • Users might undergo a change of mind once they start using something and might also realize that what they had asked for doesn’t work.
  • Contradictory feedback, which is equally valid, might be given by different users.
  • You might have to keep trying different solutions to resolve the same issues.

For example, a company wanted to have an Excel export button displayed prominently on many pages of its website, because they thought that was what the users wanted. Once users were questioned/observed however, it was discovered that they just wanted to be able to sort data and create customized reports. Since the website did not provide any help with sorting, users had to resort to Excel to do the needful. In this way, the assumption the company had made was proved wrong and they had to provide a level of flexibility in viewing the data. The solution saved time for the users and also streamlined the process for them.

Users: How to observe them

When a solution is in the design stage, it is not easy to predict the various kinds of environments that users may be faced with. So, observers often look at the way the focus group acts and behaves under test conditions, with the environment oriented only towards a single task and free of distractions. However, in real life, it is not possible for users to be so focused. They have preoccupations such as other applications they have open on their computers and regularly flip among different screens. So, the actual work flow of the users does not meet the intended product usage.

As a developer or designer, you probably think you know very well about the core functions of your website and all it’s supposed to do but may not be aware of the related usage that users may be creatively adapting it to. It is therefore not a good idea to not take surrounding interactions into account while deciding on the final features, even as it’s virtually impossible to take every scenario into account.

The environments users work in are different. With time and the evolution of technology, the needs of the users may change. In the context of their work, people may demand various add-ons. So, you have to come up with a design that will satisfy as many different user scenarios as possible.

Heat Maps

Among the significant ways for observing how users engage with websites are ‘heat maps’. These clearly highlight the parts of webpages that receive the maximum number of clicks.

User intention: How to understand it

If you observe 10 users in real work settings for the same application or website, you could easily witness 3-4 different ways to do the same thing. These could include at least 1 that is quite unexpected. Surprising as it may seem, all that the users are trying to accomplish is to get work done efficiently and quickly and not to abuse the system in any way.

You might think that those odd behaviors are one-offs, without comprehending the real intentions of the users and not consider them for the research and design processes. However, more useful and longer lasting solutions could be designed if you consider the intentions behind the observed behaviors and pause to think about what the users were trying to accomplish.

You could actually design beyond what users ask for, if you know the users’ intentions. You can take charge of the design and create more dynamic solutions for users, if you have their intentions in mind. For instance, if you take the time to understand the reasons behind demands for different features, instead of complying with all demands, you might be able to design a blueprint that works harmoniously for every one without having matched all requests.

User intention: How to find it out

1. Ask the users: Apart from what users do not like or like about using the website, you have to understand everything about using the website including when users use it, what causes them to use it, what they do afterwards and what all things they consider while using the website. You have to keep probing them about why a particular function can be problematic and about what bothers them. You can ask about the actions they were performing and then try to put everything in context. Your goal should be to discover as many intentions as possible and these may lead you to bigger intentions.

  • Sessions of participatory discovery – This involves asking members of the target audience what they expect to find and do. In such a session, data are collected in the following way:
    • Ask the participating to list nearly 10 things they expect to do and/or find when using the re-designed website. Write each item on a post-it note.
    • Gather the notes and arrange them so as to make each item clearly visible, such as on a table or a wall.
    • Ask everyone to review the suggestions and segregate three that appear the most important to them.
    • Discuss the chosen responses and obtain additional information from the group.
  • Surveys – Using Survey Monkey or Fluid Surveys or another such tool, creating and distributing surveys are easy. However, if you have sufficient budget, you should hire a research firm to find a relevant set of participants and to craft the survey accurately. However, if the budget is tighter, the analysis and distribution of surveys can be done using the kind of tools mentioned earlier. Once the research initiative has a defined purpose, it’s important to keep the following in mind:
    • The questions should be simple and focused. All questions should be connected to the objectives of the research. The questions should be such that there should be no barriers to respond.
    • Open-ended questions should be avoided. The questions should require the respondents to choose from a multiple choice format or to provide ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. This will make the analysis easier, along with making it easier to build recommendations based on the responses.
    • Incentives should be used. These could be in the form of a contest or a lucky draw.
    • The audience should be well-defined. It can be difficult to solicit responses from a general audience. The audience should be identified well in advance and the survey sent directly to them.

2. Offer hypotheses for users to disprove or validate: You shouldn’t assume that the way you interpret what you have observed is always right. Some users may not be good at articulating their thoughts while others may be. However, if you share your interpretation with them, you will find that users are good at building on your interpretation or at correcting you.

Unanticipated intentions

It is not easy to lead a conversation towards intentions, as you might discover while trying this mode of user interviews. Since users do not generally ask themselves why they like to do things in a particular way, mastering the skill of getting information out of them can take a rather long period of time. User-centered design has uncovering hidden motives as its cornerstone. So, if you would rather not try it out yourself, you could always hire professionals to do the job.

Review of Analytics

To determine what users do with the features and content available, reviewing and slicing analytics data from the existing web presence can prove quite effective. You can analyze the data and create customized reports.

Have you had your website re-designed recently and did you gather user data before that? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

Anand Bhusari

About the Author

Anand Bhusari heads creative group at Net Solutions and has been in this field from past 15 years possessing vast experience in print, web and mobile. Anand thinks simplicity is the key to design. He is apple fanboy and loves spending time with his family.

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