Before you read any further, answer this simple question.
As a designer, who do you design your work for? Your client, your company, your customers or for yourself?
I am sure different designers will have different answers. And this goes out for other professions too, e.g writing, teaching, playing music and so on.
The key thing each one of us should remember is that we should deliver according to the needs of the audience, and not that of a particular person or organization. We should deliver our service to the people who would use the service and not to the company who is buying your product or labour.
I might sound absurd but this is the truth.
I like Linkin Park and I can play the electric guitar too. So here is my friend who invites me to his marriage anniversary and asks me to play something. Imagine the scenario if I play a hard rock number and freak out like a metal band, will the guests and the hosts love it? Sure I am a crazy hard rock fan but….
When you design for the user, you are already down into the right track. If your design is user friendly and meets the goals of the host company, wouldn’t it be the ideal situation for everyone? You, your employer, the company buying your design and the users who actually end up using it? User satisfaction and acceptance should be the driving force behind your creation, not the principles and points mentioned in that project document.
But how do you know what users want?
Answer : Metrics and user behavior.
Studying user metrics is the only way to know how users are using your product, what are their needs and which design appeals to them. Just because you think that Blue is the ideal color for your business, does not necessarily guarantee that this is the color that your audience loves. You have to try all the shades one after another and see what works and what doesn’t.
This is by far the only way to know the emotions of your customers and design acording to their requirements.
What do you want to achieve? What is the required conversion funnel? What are your objectives?
Write them down. NOW!
Design keeping your goals in mind, not your personal likings. Your design should compliment your goal and not your emotions.
For example, if your goal is to get more email subscribers, design your website in such a way that the subscription box is prominently placed on the above the fold section of your template.
“Hey, I dont like that subscription box at the way top, it looks very bad to my eyes”
Hold it right there!
You should design keeping your goal in mind, not your personal feelings. If keeping the subscription box at the way top converts to more subscribers, you should stick with it.
Because this is the one metric that tells you that your goals are converting.
[For those who don't know what is A/B Testing: A/B testing, split testing or bucket testing is a method of marketing testing by which a baseline control sample is compared to a variety of single-variable test samples in order to improve response rates. A classic direct mail tactic, this method has been recently adopted within the interactive space to test tactics such as banner ads, emails and landing pages. For more on A/B Testing, refer this article.]
Studying user metrics is an important part of usability testing, as studying the performance of different metrics tells you which way your ideas are working and which ways are dead end.
A/B testing is a great way to benchmark the performance of metrics.
Put up a sample design A and measure user behavior. Using your site Analytics program e.g Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, find how users are responding to your design. Some questions to ask
When you have the answers, pull up a completely different design and track everything from the bottm to up. Record your observations.
By tallying the performance of user metrics for different designs, you can conclude which designs work and which designs don’t. Its the metrics that knows your answers and it is experiments which are the key to user metrics.
Think. Why do you buy clothes from the same store over and over again? Why do you prefer Apple products and why do you use Gmail? It is certainly not that there aren’t better alternatives of the products you use and it goes without saying that these products have a few drawbacks from your perspective.
Nevertheless, you continue using the same products, months after months. Why?
The short answer is: emotional hook. You have emotionally attached with the product, so much so that you are not willing to switch over and try a completely new alternative. You know there are drawbacks and UI elements you don’t like (e.g the new Gmail theme is a major turn off for most people but they are still using it anyway) but you don’t want to dump the product because you have reached a point where the product has conquered your emotions.
This a very difficult thing to achieve. Getting emotionally attached with your customer should be a priority and studying user metrics is one of the easiest ways to achieve it.
As the owner of a website, you have to define the actions that is driven by emotions of a user. In fact, it is a good idea to measure the following:
Answering these questions and drawing the conclusions can have a great impact on the design and usability of your website. You should “never guess” the answers because that would defeat the original purpose of filtering “actionable metrics”.
What is a conversion funnel?
Conversion funnel is a technical term used in e-commerce operations to describe the track a consumer takes through an Internet advertising or search system, navigating an e-commerce web site and finally converting to a sale.The metaphor of a funnel is used to describe the decrease in numbers that occurs at each step of the process.
Let us take an example
Your existing design is such that users have to sign up in order to use a product and then they are allowed to be a customer. Your product is good, has a fair amount of reputation in the market and people love using it. Nevertheless, your conversion funnel might be a little “out of the track”, where most new users may freak out and decide to abandon it.
If you throw a sign up page right at the face of the user before even they have used it or seen a glimpse of it, most users will quit. People are extremely busy and a fraction of your targetted customers want a solution as soon as possible. They will be happy to pay you afterwards but first, they want to see what you are offering.
If your conversion funnel asks for a user registration or a monthly subscription on step 1, it is high time you re-think your business model. Let your users use the product for free on a trial basis and study the following metrics:
If the answer to the first two questions is affirmative and that of the last one is “No”, you know what to do. You have to re-define your conversion funnel so that your users are more “aligned” towards the product. Only metrics can tell you which changes are more effective and which funnel works better under similar circumstances.
One mistake most people commit is that they combine metrics at all levels, together into one package and then analyze it as a single entity. A better approach is to analyze metrics at their “acting zones” and then draw conclusions from the results that are produced.
Consider the following example where a user finds your product, signs up as a user, engages and ultimately converts into a referral customer or a sale. Instead of measuring the metrics of the entire conversion funnel, you should split the funnel into separate “sections” and measure metrics at the intersection of two sections.
It is very important to use metrics and find the design changes that
Now your users are convinced that your product is what they were looking for. This is a very important phase where your design should convey the “sales pitch”. More precisely, this is the time where your design should focus on converting the customer into a referral, without pissing him off or driving him away.
Here, you have to gradually split test between your design sets and measure which design produces the maximum referrals, without losing customers. The last clause is an important one, you don’t want to lose your existing user base on the account of gaining more sales or referrals. What you want is to increase the ratio of referrals and existing users.
Again, this is just one example where I have illustrated how metrics differ in various levels of the conversion funnel. Your case maybe different and it is up to you to decide and split the metrics into various categories.
I will wrap up this article by discussing some useful tools which lets you track visitor behavior on your website and draw conclusions from actionable metrics. By using the following tools on your website, you will be able to track how users react to a design change. It is very important to collect visitor analytics data before and after implementing your change and study up the changes in full detail. Unless you have the insights on what works and what doesn’t, you won’t be able to “design for the user”. The goal of any website is to focus on the needs of the user, while keeping the user interface, simple, unobtrusive and easier to use.
Google Analytics is by far one of the best visitor analytics programs available till date. The best part about Google Analytics is that it is free, requires no additional maintenance and works for multiple sites, designs and user interfaces in parallel. With Google Analytics real time data, you can use a set of designs on various parts of your website and track user responses as it happens.
Kissmetrics is a customer analytics software that allows you to understand and optimize the user experience throughout your entire customer life cycle from first click to the last conversion. Unlike Google Analytics, Kissmetrics isn’t entirely free but given the amount of “conclusions” you can draw, it is worth every penny you spend.
Another wonderful thing regarding Kissmetrics is that the service merges with Kissinsights, so you can crucial information about what your users are doing, what your users are not doing and more importantly -”why they are not doing that specific thing you want so badly?”
When compared to Google Analytics (which is still my favorite and only analytics program) Kissmetrics provides no additional benefits, but it is ideally suited for web designers who need least setups and more focus on the metrics they care about.
Crazyegg is certainly the best tool for finding out where users click on your website. A heatmap is indispensable, if you want to know what users do on your site, where they click, which designs they relate to and which design makes them “feel at home”. Understanding the click pattern of a visitor is an important metric which every web designer badly wants.
It is a good idea to study the heatmap pattern of two sets of desgins, after an A/B experiment. By observing the heatmap pattern and click density, you would have a clear idea how to design the different UI elements and focus on the sections that needs more “attention”.
Clicktale is another brilliant web application, which can be used to analyze mouse move heatmaps, video recordings, form analytics, attention heatmaps, conversion funnels, campaign tracking and many other visitor centric behaviors. Clicktale lets you watch video recordings of how users actually use your site and see where visitors click on your page. A must have tool for usability testing and measuring the attention scope of the user.
To sum it up, good design comes after you have studied up the metrics from all view points. Find things that must exist. Figure out if it really does need to exist. If so, do everything you can to make it exist sustainably, and remove all other aspects that distracts the user. That’s what good design is all about.