26 Feb 2013

Commonly Ignored, But Important, Web Design Requirements

Every web site should have a plan. Even something as simple as making your own personal blog means figuring out what it is for and how it should look. Free and fee-based templates likely don’t do everything you want so they need to be adapted to fit.

Requirements gathering photoPlanning a web site is much harder than it may seem. Not only that, the more expertise you have on hand, the more complicated your site requirements can be because knowledge-based techniques are likely to be applied. Finding and retaining multi-skilled web designers is a big problem because the right combination of education, training and work experience is getting complicated. The usability profession has acknowledged that companies are paying starting salaries of $100,000 for beginners, while advanced usability professionals with a minimum of 5 years’ experience typically earn $150,000 yearly. If you were to add related skills like SEO, software QA, accessibility and emotional design to the mix, you’ve got the Golden Goose.

What are some of the site requirements they look for that your web site team hadn’t considered?

1. Accessible forms. It’s rare to find a web site with a contact form, shopping cart, email subscription form or Internet application that can be used by people who depend on screen readers and key stroke combinations to use sites. It pains user advocates to see this but experience shows most corporations will not invest the time it takes to add additional code to forms.
2. Emotional design. The enormous volume of data released on human behavior is topped only by the equally gigantic rush of information on neurology. Once a designer gets a taste of the connection between how the brain works and its response to various elements of web design, the whole approach to design changes.
3. User Personas. Although they are not new, applying them for use in analytics and usability audits is not common practice. The peaks and valleys of Google Analytics and highs and lows of traffic stats come to life when you add user environments, time restraints, emotional states, culture, values and more to the picture.
4. Memory. As crazy as it sounds, a glaring omission from web sites is mention of its brand. A top requirement for web sites that want to be remembered, referred and returned to is to be sure to put the company/brand/site name on it. Images don’t count because search engines and screen readers don’t see them.
5. Functional testing. This is a requirement that goes far beyond broken link checks, browser and resolution checks and a simple add to cart/remove from cart test. An expert designer will purposely try to blow up every cart, form, application and whatever else they can find. While this may be loads of fun, its purpose is to protect web site users, servers, data integrity and privacy. It means blocking search engines from getting certain data. This requirement also includes user error prevention and barriers to conversions.

Finding one person who can handle each of these areas, while at the same time not interfering with search engine and social media marketing strategies is unlikely. Most web designers are strong in certain areas like graphic design or a combination of CSS, HTML5 and PHP with a flair for making attractive look and feel experiences. To go above and beyond the status quo, look to related fields for additional site requirements to add to your list.

Any step towards improving user experience is worth the investment in the long term.