In business, I'm a big proponent of the "customer comes first" concept. So are customers – most top companies have a reputation for placing customer interests foremost.
Unfortunately, in web design, too often the customer – the end user for whom your new site should be a key resource - comes last or even not at all. Consumed by trying to make the new site as hip or cutting edge as possible, many designers create beautiful websites that fail completely at servicing the customer - either taking too long to load, presenting confusing navigation or not having the right subset of options. This is the result of the number one warning sign when dealing with Web designers - NOT ASKING YOU ABOUT NOR THINKING CRITICALLY ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMER.
Your website - at its essence - is simply a place to engage your customer and meet their needs. A good Web design firm will ask you about your customer very early on in the process. They’ll ask questions like, “What do they do on your site? Why are they there? How sophisticated are they? What tools do they need to best find information about your products/services? What branding, imagery and messaging do they best respond to?”
One of my favorite Web design terms is “use case”. If you want to read a complex definition, check out Wikipedia’s Definition. But for me, it’s a fancy term to describe the different objectives of the people who use your site.
Take an online banking website, for example. As a business owner, I use my online banking site for a number of functions: I check my personal checking account balance; check my business account balance; place stop payments on checks I’ve written; transfer money to pay credit card bills; send domestic and international wires; or research mortgage rates or refinancing options. Each of these can be considered one of my use cases.
An essential way to begin any Web project is to ask and list, “What use cases are we trying to serve here?” If you are redesigning a banking site, you’ll have the ones I listed above and about 40 others to consider. Luckily, for most sites you’ll only have about 10-20 use cases, from “read company news” to “shop for products” to “find a store or distributor”. To develop your list of use cases, think about each type of individual who will be using your site and then identify all of the behaviors they’ll exhibit when they get there. Don’t just think about your different customer segments but also others who interact with your company, such as suppliers, employees or investors.
Like a great company, a great website always starts with the customer. Make sure your Web design firm is on the same page.
Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs