Pleasing hearts and minds with web design.

What makes a web design successful? If you ask a CFO, they may say anything that improves their company’s bottom line. Ask an end user and they’ll tell you they’re looking for something beautiful and usable. So, with heavy competition for users’ ever-shorter attention spans, the smartest way to move that needle is to give the user what they want.

This process, known as user-centered design or human-centered design, can improve the success and profitability of your websites by engaging your target audience in a way that appeals specifically to them. The following steps will help make a memorable and personal experience for each user, resulting in more completed actions and conversions.

1. Plan.
Come up with a concept and create a strategy specifying the requirements of the design and key performance indicators for the project.

  • List tasks you want the user to complete (i.e., social shares, purchases, or email newsletter sign-ups)
  • Collect benchmark data from the current web design
  • Consider challenges and constraints, like schedule and budget

2. Discover.
Research! Understanding user behavior and their decision-making process is a big part of a user-centered design.

  • Write user personas that outline habits and characteristics of your target audience
  • Write user case scenarios describing how typical user tasks are carried out
  • Consider different users’ levels of capabilities, goals, and expectations
  • Speak directly to your intended users through interviews and surveys

3. Design.
User-centered design involves several rounds of design iterations; there is not just one “correct” answer or design.

  • Start with quick sketches and wireframes that can be easily modified
  • Next, create prototypes that roughly have the look or functionality of the final design
  • Keep ease of use in mind. Designs that have a nice look to them are perceived as being easier to use.

4. Deploy.
It’s time to put your design out into the world and let people interact with it.

  • Conduct usability testing either in person or remotely
  • Heuristic evaluation, keystroke level modeling, first click testing, card sorting, or tree testing may all be employed
  • Facilitate user feedback and encourage them to participate
  • Try A/B testing or multivariate testing to see what is performing best
  • Use analytics to measure results

5. Refine.
Akin to the agile process, continuing to change and improve your design based on users’ needs is essential.

  • Repeat steps 2 through 4 to optimize your design while continuing to monitor key performance metrics defined in step 1
  • Collaboration between visual designers, content strategists, and front-end developers is key
  • Capture both the hearts and the minds of end users – make it easy for them to complete the desired tasks through functionality, and then motivate and engage users through copy and design

Implementing user-centered design and listening to the needs of the people who are actually using your product or website will provide a good user experience and result in satisfied customers. The kicker is, if the design is good, they will never even know how much work went into making it happen.

For a more visual explanation of user-centered design, check out this adorable penguin infographic.