They’re called users, respondents, visitors, actors, employees, customers, and more. They’re counted as clicks, impressions, advertising revenues, and sales. Whatever you call them and however you count them, they are the ultimate designers of the Web. Build a web site that confuses customers, and they’ll go elsewhere. Build an intranet that frustrates employees, and they won’t use it.
This is the Internet’s fast-forward brand of evolution. Remember the original Pathfinder web site from Time Warner? They spent millions of dollars on a flashy, graphical extravaganza. Users hated it. A complete redesign followed months after the original launch. This was an expensive and embarrassingly public lesson in the importance of user-sensitive design.
So, we’ve established that users are powerful. They’re also complex and unpredictable. You can’t blindly apply lessons learned by Amazon to the information architecture design of Pfizer.com. You’ve got to consider the unique nature of the site and of the user population.
There are many ways to study user populations. Market research firms run focus groups to study branding preferences. Political pollsters use telephone surveys to gauge the public’s feelings about candidates and issues. Usability firms conduct interviews to determine which icons and color schemes are most effective. Anthropologists observe people acting and interacting within their native environments to learn about their culture, behavior, and beliefs.
No single approach ...