Putting the Capital U in Users

Throughout the various articles i have written over the last couple of months, I have been stressing different development methodologies, techniques, and systems that can be used to create a better User Experience. Everything from streamlining your development environment, to focusing on design and navigation, all have a considerable influence on the way that Users view and approach your website. But the main question remains left to be asked. Why is it that your Users are so important to you?

Now while this may sound like a trivial question with obvious answers, there is actually more depth to this subject then you would first realize. Let’s take a walk through history shall we: before the invention of the internet – you as a business owner interacted with your Clients and potential customers either at your offices or in your store. Let’s take the store as our example. You walk into a new clothing store, looking for something nice for yourself. You spend a few minutes looking around but you’re not really sure what you’re looking for or exactly where to look. One of the shopkeepers, noticing you walking around aimlessly flipping through the clothes comes to your side and asks if you need any help. You start talking to the shopkeeper explaining what you want, until he helps you find something that you like, until you leave the store a satisfied customer.

Now, let’s compare this to the world of doing business online. Around 1998, a potential customer comes to your website, they can’t find what they are looking for, so they continue to look – digging themselves deeper into your navigational system, going back and forth between sections, and then maybe, just maybe they might find what they are looking for. Now, in 2008 – a potential customer comes to your website, after a few moments of looking around they are still not able to find what they are looking for – so – they leave.

This is something that many website/ business owners fail to realize. The face of the internet has completely changed over the last 10 years – we have new design trends, web 2.0 concepts, more powerful yet light programming languages and a much faster internet speeds. With all of these developments, Users have come to expect a lot more out of the websites that they visit. Whereas in the early days of the internet a User might put time and effort into locating something on a site that wasn’t easily visible – Users of today have a certain level of expectations don’t have that patience, and will navigate away from your page in a moment, if those expectations aren’t met.

Client Servicing is a big word with lots of connotations, but what it basically boils down to in this context is that in one situation you had a real live person walking your Client through the various different options of what’s available, doing his best to make sure their comfortable, and trying to make sure they leave the store having made a purchase. This type of client servicing is simply not available in the internet world, where the medium through which the Client is accessing your products or business is no longer your storefront, but a computer screen displaying your website. This is why the User Experience your website offers is so important, your competing with the real world Store Experience – and using nothing more than your User Interface (remember here I’m referring to everything from your site design, navigation, to even the content that you write) you need to make your Users feel as comfortable as if they were engaged in a conversation with one of your Sales People. But wait, there’s more…

We live in a world where the average household has hundreds of television channels, people are blinded by being forced to see thousands of advertisements a day, and now these same people have access to the internet – with trillions of webpage’s for them to visit. What does this mean? It means we live in a world where people have an attention span of seconds. If you cannot manage to capture, entertain, or navigate your Users to where they want to go within seconds, then it is very likely that with a single click of their mouse, they will be gone.

Sounds like an almost impossible task? It isn’t – and the success of thousands of websites is proof of that – but remember that for every success story, there are tens to hundreds that have failed because they approached their project thinking “if I build it… they will come”, and never give enough attention to who the actual Users of their site are going to be, in order to develop the best User Experience possible. You can’t make a shoe without knowing what size feet the customer has – so why try to build a website without the same type of information? Pay attention – put the capital U in Users.


This article was originally published in the February 08 edition of ICT Business Magazine