Are Your Designs Backfiring?

Designers naturally develop an eye for design…it's one reason why we hire them. However, when designers rely solely on their own instincts, their designs can end up backfiring, especially on the web.

To do good web design, designers must check their designs with the people who will end up using the design. Often, designers will be able to improve a design's utility after seeing how users respond to it and use it.

An Example of Revising a Design Based on Feedback From Users

Before we redesigned the Michigan House Civics Commission web site, we tested the old site with sample users to identify key improvement areas. A page which listed guest speakers received some unexpected feedback.

The page itself was a listing of legislators who have committed to spending a certain amount of time each year to speaking in classrooms or other similar venues. The page listed each speaker's name followed by a couple lines of the biography and a link to the full biography text on a separate page.

Designer's View: Limit Page Size, Enhance Ability to Scan

The old page with name, a few lines of the bio, and a link.As a designer, this made sense to me. Two to three lines of bio would give people enough information to decide whether to follow the link to the full bio. It would significantly reduce the size of a necessarily large page, and would make the bio intros the same length should help people scan the page more quickly.

User's View: Put Full Bios on the Page so I Can Print Them All at Once

The new page with name and full bio.The users in this case were civics teachers, fourth grade through twelfth, as well as college. During a user test with a teacher, we learned that instead of looking at the speaker bios on the web site, she would print out the page listing them all and take that page to a teachers' lounge to look over during lunch or another break.

During the post-test discussion with that teacher, we learned that she would rather have the full bios listed even though the page would take longer to load. That way she could print them all out and get more than just the first sentence or two on each.

Revise for the User

With this piece of feedback, we decided to put all the bios on a single page for easy printing.

However, to prevent the page download time from getting out of hand, we recommended to the content owners that each bio be brief. And, to help with scannability, we also recommended that the bios be fairly similar to each other in length.

In addition, we incorporated a stylesheet that optimizes the design for the pages when they come out of the printer.

The Principle

Designers' assumptions often lead to designs that don't work as well as they should for the end-user. It's hard to change the way we work, but, as designers, we need to check with the audience before we release a final design.

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