Designers vs. Users

I received a piece of relevant “spam” yesterday from IDEA, the Institute for Dynamic Education Advancement–a message alerting me to a new study on how people interact with web sites. The interesting aspect of the study is that it compares the opinions of users to those of web designers. No surprises here but there is a significant gap.

  • Designers underestimate the thresholds for an effective site. Respondents consider a site “effective” when visitors are satisfied with respect to enjoyment, can find information somewhat easily, and never get lost in the site. By at least one point on a five-point scale, visitors have higher expectations for effectiveness than do designers. Nonprofit organizations believe that effective sites do not have “information gaps between what visitors want and what the site provides” and that visitors are at least “somewhat satisfied” with their sites. Designers should give greater consideration to overall effectiveness, thereby reducing the chance of failure for a user to find the information they seek.
  • Designers are overly optimistic about visitors’ ability to maintain orientation. In the survey, the ability to maintain orientation was defined as visitors’ ability to know “where they are, where they can go next, and which pages are related.” About 70% of designers believe that visitors are almost always able to maintain orientation. That drops to about 30% when non-profit organizations express their view. In contrast, only about 10% of visitors report being able to almost always maintain their orientation. Fewer than 5% report that they tend to get lost frequently. Said another way, your visitors don’t know your site as well as you do, so make sure it is obvious how to find information through meaningful menus, prompts, and not too much clutter.

Worth taking a look at the full report.

About Simeon Simeonov

I'm an entrepreneur, hacker, angel investor and reformed VC. I am currently Founder & CTO of Swoop, a search advertising platform. Through FastIgnite I invest in and work with a few great startups to get more done with less. Learn more, follow @simeons on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn.
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One Response to Designers vs. Users

  1. Emil Sotirov says:

    Sim… thank you for the link to this study.

    One thing I see being consistently missed in studies of this type is a clear differentiation between two general types of users… defining two almost antithetical modes of web (and software) usage.

    First, there are the “knowledge” oriented users (typically college educated) who…

    1. Need to “know” first… and then “act” (this comes from the structure of our formal education – you study first… then you practice)

    2. Need to have a clear goal for each activity (again “know first”… then “act”)

    3. Think they know what they are looking for (when searching for information)

    4. Need to know “where they are” – as learned by looking at maps… with an overview and complete understanding (as from above).

    Then, there are the “experience” oriented users (typically people with less formal education) who…

    1. Are accustomed to engage environments and use stuff without the (acquired) need to first understand “how this works” (comfortable being agnostic)

    2. Are not accustomed to define clear goals every time they engage in an activity (not teleological)

    3. Are aware of the fact they don’t really know exactly what they are looking for (when searching for information)

    4. Are finding their way by “foraging” and following the “information scent” (tropologically, contextually).

    Now, I would argue that the second type of users are, in fact, in a better position to feel at home on the web. Because their ways of thinking and acting are much closer to the exploratory, experiential, hypertextual (multitude of paths you cannot know about) nature of the web – where discovery is the main value.

    Anecdotic evidence shows that the most educated (non-geek!) users within an organization have the most trouble using new software and web applications – believe it or not. That’s also my personal experience after 14 years of designing desktop software and web applications.

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