When building a new website or redeveloping your existing one there are a number of milestone where you should be involving your users.
The earlier you engage with your users, the better the end result will be. In addition, involving users in the development process can:
- save you time and money in the long run as changes to the design and layout of the site can be made before costly coding work has taken place
- help you gain buy-in from senior stakeholders early in the development process so there is no push back at the time of launch
But how can you do this?
Stage 1: User needs discovery
Before embarking on a website build or redevelopment it is important to understand who your users are and what needs they have.
It sounds obvious, I know, but many organisations begin from the position of ‘what do we need to tell our customers’ and give little consideration to how their customers want to hear from them.
There are all sorts of ways to gather insight into what your users want and the best approach depends on the insights you are hoping to gain.
Individual interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research, diary studies, online surveys and discussion forums or heuristic UX evaluations are just some of the methods you might consider.
If you’re working on a straightforward B2C website, even chatting with your mates in the pub can give you fresh insight into what users need (you can pitch it as Guerilla testing to your boss!).
For more unique audience you may need some support recruiting target users but, trust us when we say, no user is impossible to recruit (it’s normally just a matter of money!).
Building a website based on assumptions and guesswork will guarantee its failure in the long run. Save yourself time and money and gain a clear understanding of user requirements before you start.
Stage 2: IA development and testing
Once you understand what your users want to achieve on your website, you can start developing the structure and layout a.k.a. the information architecture (IA). This is how the content on your site should be chunked and labelled so users can easily navigate to the information they need.
This normally leads to the development of a sitemap or at least a spreadsheet showing the different levels of your website hierarchy and the words used to label these sections.
Once again, this is a great time to engage with your users. IA testing tools, such as Treejack, allow you to get feedback into how well the structure and navigation of your site works for users without the distraction of design.
These tests are super simple to set up and can give you quantitative evidence of where your site works well and where your users are getting lost.
Read more about how to build a great information architecture.
Stage 3: Iterative usability testing
With your IA in place, the design work can begin.
Design is much more than just making a website look pretty. It helps your product or service resonate emotionally with your customers, conveys credible brand messaging so potential customers trust your business and contributes to the overall user experience.
However, design should not get in the way of usability.
The best way to ensure it doesn’t is by regularly putting your designs in front of users and asking them to complete a bunch of tasks (i.e. conduct usability testing).
This testing can be done anytime from wireframe or early prototype stage through to the live site. The more rounds of testing you complete (you should do at least 2), the more user-centred your final site will be.
For best results, we recommend moderated, qualitative, 1-to-1 usability testing conducted in a lab. Here’s why:
- Skilled moderators who adopt a user led approach to facilitation are able to explore issues (often unexpected) as they arise, probe on why testers do things and their emotional reactions to the site
- Eye tracking equipment allows you to see what users do and don’t look at; whilst we don’t recommend heatmaps, ‘liveviewer’ adds enormously to the insight into how users look at websites and apps
- You, your colleagues and design partners can observe the testing in real time and ask additional questions ‘on the hoof’ prompted by the testing outcomes and not anticipated in advance
Users should be involved in every stage of the website (re)development process. By understanding your user needs upfront and regularly testing your website structure and designs with target customers throughout the build you will launch a full-functioning, user-centred website, which makes everyone happy!