14 Mar The danger in designing for your average user

Who’s that one person that wants to use your whole site? Who effortlessly finds information? Who flies through the checkout? Who just gets it?

That’s not your average user. That’s a perfect user.

Too often in content design average just means someone who does exactly what you, the business, want them to do. By thinking that everyone who isn’t edge case can be lumped into an optimistically large bucket is to risk missing some key user needs.

Test, don’t assume

You may think your average user will have no problems engaging with your site. But who is that user? Generation Y or someone older? Higher educated or school leaver? Always online or more of a newb?

Test your functionality across your whole demographic. Regularly.

First click testing, interviews or full usability testing – whatever your research method, test your designs with a wide range of users. What works for some may not for others, while identifying common problems will show what urgently needs revisiting.

Remember, in house discussions can’t be separated from your in depth product knowledge. While you may be trying to think objectively, looking from the inside won’t robustly test your product. No external testing risks mistaking your own team, however subconsciously, as your average user.

Accessibility for all

Your profiling may reveal your average user to be 30 and educated, but does that mean your content should be written for a 30 year old with a degree? Sounds far too lofty to be a good web experience.

Writing for a reading age of 9 doesn’t mean childish content. It simply challenges your writers to write in concise, plain English. Short sentences that can be scanned and understood at a glance should always be the goal. The Campaign for Plain English have some great guides, including this A-Z of alternative terms. Why say complete when you can say finish?

Take a similar approach to visual design. While your average user may be likely to have good eyesight, does that mean you should use tiny font? Or busy, intricate visuals. Clean, bold design is widely appealing while meeting accessibility guidelines.

Get perspective

Yes, your average user may view a few items, select one and checkout, but what’s their perspective? How do their emotions affect their actions? Surely there’s no such thing as an average emotion.

Emotions are as important as actions when it comes to user-centred design. Are they excited or nervous? In a rush or awaiting inspiration? Curious or frustrated? Thinking about where your user will encounter your site (context), what they’re trying to do (task) and why (motivation) will help you gauge their emotion. Then test your assumptions.

You may have a good idea of your average user. But do you want your site to work for the narrow centre of your venn diagram? Or the vast majority of your wonderfully diverse customers?

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