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> Think like your user
       > questions
           > truth about users
           > what's in it for me?
           > the puzzle
           > Content is King
           > Usability
           > secret benefits
           > further reading
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> Usability Review
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> Online Site Assessment


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Think like your user... answers

Are you rushed and impatient?

Most people say they're their time online is rushed and they're impatient to achieve their goals. Anything that gets in the way of those goals will just add to their temptation to click off to another site.


The truth about users

If you identify with this behaviour - then you are not alone. Its the great truth of the online world. "Users are selfish, lazy, and ruthless" in their quest for information. Great search engines and the immediacy of alternatives (your competitors) just make life too short to stay on a site that doesn't deliver…

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Whats In It for Me?

If people hesitate at all to ask themselves this in the real world, once they're online, the lack of social inhibition and easy availability of alternative sources removes the hesitation and leads to this ruthless behaviour. Design to meet users needs - and make it obvious you're doing so - and you'll feel the benefits.

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The puzzle

But, turning from user into site-owner, people who feel 'rushed and impatient' as users often prioritise 'stunning visual design', and - even more surprisingly - 'interesting Flash animation' above other considerations. These are the very elements so often misused - remember how you feel about them as a user?

This is a puzzle, and we think its due to the feeling that our own ruthless behaviour as users is not universal, coupled with the fact that new media is NEW and offers myriad, seductive possibilities.

While few people would question the off-line conventions of a book/brochure (ie reads front to back, table of contents at front, pages numbered bottom left, index at back etc), unless we've been reassured that our own online behaviour is typical we'll be sorely tempted to believe that experimentation with online conventions will both differentiate and endear us to potential customers. Be reassured; ruthless 'information foraging' is typical.

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Content is King

So what really works, then?

Content rules in the online world - and quality content is an extremely potent differentiator. What sites do you use often, and return to - and why? Your reason is, almost undoubtedly, the content. Good content is time-consuming to write, which makes it expensive to produce and difficult to out-source, but online it reaps rewards on what can seem a overwhelmingly vast 'playing field'.

Turning good content into a great site is a second challenge - and those who rise to it stand to gain enormous competitive advantage (think how many sites you leave and forget... they're toast!). How can you meet this challenge?

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Usability is a strategic design methodology centred around user's online expectations and needs. It helps design teams keep focused on the large issues like maximum download times for pages, when to use text and when to use graphics, how content is ordered and structured, and smaller things like making sure text is legible and readable, putting buttons in the expected place. Never doubt how much this effects users, and therefore the site's effectiveness. For example, forcing your users through any unusable online process often leads them to abandon the process and your site (think of a shopping cart that won't go through the check-out - definitely a lost sale in the virtual world).

The usability design process starts with an analysis of your site objectives - what you want people to be able to achieve via your site - and target audiences - who those people are, and what their needs are, and builds from there.

(Read more about usability benefits and Sodabyte's approach...)

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Sssh… the secret bonuses of usability

Usability is all about people and their behaviour online. Make a site work well for most users… and you've taken the first steps to making an accessible site (ie a site that caters for disabled and impaired users), and - those pesky search engines. Yes, they're not human, but the best of them - Google - invests millions of dollars on developing algorithms to return the most relevant results and the best sites for each search; very user-centred.

The Google algorithms look at who takes the links from their search results pages, how long they spend on that site, and how often users return to measure site popularity, and weight site rankings in results pages accordingly. Sites with good usability and content are off to a head start.

While we're not for a moment suggesting that just incorporating good usability will get your site to the top of the rankings in the search engines, or ensure you never fall foul of the growing Accessibility legislation - these areas are interrelated, and can be built in at the outset of an integrated and thoughtful design process to make your site outperform the competition in every aspect.

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This changes everything.... where to next?

If you've found this information useful and want to find out more, there are great resources on-line and off- that can help you to build on this knowledge - have a look at our resources page for some of the most useful, entry-level ones we value.

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No time to study - help me now!

If you're too busy with other work, we can help with your site in all kinds of ways - from a review that can enable you to improve your site in-house, to a rewrite, to a complete redesign.

For a friendly discussion (no obligation, no hard-sell) of how we can get your site working harder for you, call Siobhan on 020 8257 3445
or email us.

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We hope you found this section useful. If you didn't - or thought we left something out / made some awful 'faux pas' in our own user-centricity - please let us know...

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