Anything you see that has a purpose, has been created with an end user in mind. This can be anything from a tea cup to the Large Hadron Collider; design and functionality decisions have been made that consider how a user thinks and feels when interacting with said product.
As digital professionals, we have a duty to do the same when we produce design work and web products:
- Why would someone interact with it?
- What are their first instincts when they start interacting with it?
- How could the environment and the emotions of the user influence what they take from the experience?
While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to engaging users as effectively as possible, there are a number of aspects to consider in order to create something that is truly valuable and worthwhile.
Is it useful?
Does the thing I’m creating have a use or a purpose to someone? All of the great innovations are ones that have been formed in order to solve a problem. Becoming tiresome to walk long distances and carry heavy loads? Create the wheel. Internet getting too big to navigate effectively? Create Google. Thirsty during the match and you have your hands in two separate bowls of snacks? Create the novelty drinking helmet!
If what you are trying to create doesn’t have a higher purpose than simply being in existence, there is no real reason for it.
Is it findable?
Can people actually find the thing I’m making? On a large scale, through good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), you can give your product the best chance of being found via search engines such as Google or Yahoo. When you’ve tried searching for something, how often do you click onto the second page results? The third? Fourth? I imagine it’s not that often. Being visible on that first page is vital for your product being found and interacted with.
And then when someone has actually found your website, it is likely that they’ve come to it for a specific reason. Can they get the information they are looking for before they get fed up and leave? The website needs to satisfy the customer’s needs as quickly as possible so that you can engage with them and encourage them to take further action.
Is it accessible?
Is the thing I am making accessible to everyone? There is no longer an excuse for excluding people from using your product just because they don’t meet certain criteria defined by an ‘average user’. You’d expect a restaurant to have a ramp as well as stairs, you’d expect a DVD to have subtitles, your products should be held to that same standard.
Ethics aside, from a business point of view, you also want your product to be able to be used by as wide a selection of people as possible. So, while including everyone is the right thing to do, it also allows you more growth potential.
Is it useable?
Can the thing I’m creating be easily used and interacted with? How many times would you say you have started trying to use something complicated and given up rather than persevered with it. As a general rule of thumb, most people will spend somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds on a web page. Can you make the most of that time by making your site easy to navigate and consume?
If a user spends upwards of 10 seconds trying to figure out how your website works, it is a safe bet that they will click back to Google to find another solution rather than persevere with yours. Most people expect surfing the web to be a relaxing and easy process, you need to meet those expectations.
Is it desirable?
Does the thing I’m creating have desirability? Do people actually want it or aspire to have it? If you assume you are creating something that has the same basic functionality as a number of other projects in your sector, what is it about yours that will get the attention of all the people your competitors are trying to attract?
If you can make your product desirable in its own right and also make it more about an emotional experience than its base use, you can generate a larger amount of customer satisfaction that goes beyond it being a means to an end.
Is it credible?
Does the thing I’m creating have credibility? If a website looks impressive and talks a good game, but the company behind it doesn’t come across as trustworthy or believable, the customer will become disengaged and will abandon the product.
For a user to take a chance on your product, they have to be able to trust you. Major global companies (Facebook as a prime example) are also capable of losing customer confidence. Once people start losing trust, it is very difficult to stop them from no longer interacting with your product, but it may also drive them to recommend others to stop using it too.
Is it valuable?
Does the thing I’m creating provide value? You’ll find that if each of the above questions are answered positively, the product will immediately become valuable to people. There are almost 2 billion websites online right now (as the time of writing) and I imagine that you have no more than a dozen or two that you enjoy and visit regularly.
The websites that you love are likely to tick a number of these criteria, and if you want your product to be the next big thing, it will need to as well.
The most popular sites in the world consider their end user, which is why they become so popular. People like products that are useful, easy to find, accessible, interactive, desirable, credible and most importantly, that add value to their lives.
If you want people to interact with your product they have to able to and want to, and that can only happen when you consider your end user as a human being. No two people are the same, and assuming that everyone who interacts with your product is an ‘average user’ is a waste of time. Their ability, the environment and their emotional drivers all play a role in the consumer’s decision-making process. People are unpredictable, so to make the most out of your potential user base, you need to create a product that is flexible as possible in order to make an impact on as many different people as possible.
People have experiences, both good and bad ones. The bad ones stick with people and it takes a massive amount of effort to change a first impression. If you can be empathetic to your end user, you are more likely to give them an experience they will ultimately enjoy and gain satisfaction from. Try engaging your customers through beautiful design and amazing functionality; after all a large number of loyal and happy customers is what every company wants.