Visitor-Centered Web Design
To visitors, the Web site represents a context with its own constraints for taking actions and fulfilling goals. These constraints are different from the more general constraints of the genre context discussed in Chapter 6 and the more specific factors of the page context covered in Chapter 8. At the site level, there are seven key usability design issues that are particularly important for creating effective Web site interfaces.
Conceptualizing the site with a visitor-centered focus
Positioning the content
Speeding up the response time
Smoothing the navigation
Assuring reasonable confidence in site security and privacy
Making the site visible
These seven constraints supersede any human factor guidelines at the page level with which they conflict.
Conceptualizing the Site with a Visitor-Centered Focus
Depending on the site's genre, which embodies its purpose, the site visitor can be an e-shopper, an information browser, a newsreader, a tourist, a student, a combination of these, or one of many other visitor types. Regardless of the visitor's specialized usage characteristics, which are considered at the genre level, visitor-centered design considerations must be incorporated at this time.
Keep the User in Focus. The designer should start with the question: What do I need to do to target the site's audience? The answer will require not only understanding the user, as discussed in Chapter 4, but also getting specific information on site visitors and what they want. Such information can be gathered effectively through the use of online questionnaires or forms without intruding on user privacy. Figure 7.1 is a sample registration form used by Barnes & Noble to collect information on customers interested in receiving a newsletter.
Figure 7.1: Barnes & Noble registration form (© 2001 Barnes & Noble.com. Reprinted with permission.)
Focusing on the user also means designing for clients' hardware and software environments. If the user population is likely to use more than one browser, then designers should make sure that their designs work equally well for various desktop browsers as well as for mobile devices. The same attention should be paid to users' network connectivity. If, for example, we determine that most members of the target audience have modems with slow connection speeds, then designing for usability means giving a higher priority to reducing the file size of the graphics on the site.
Site Personalization. It is important to have in place noninvasive toolsthose that do not violate privacy concernsto continually gauge what visitors want. Visitors should have the option of giving the site permission to personalize its services. For example, an e-business site such as Amazon.com can collect information on its customers' habits and use it to send them "relevant" shopping information. In this case, Amazon.com is attempting to be visitor-adaptive by anticipating the needs of the user.
To make personalization totally visitor-centered, the e-business should first find out if the user is comfortable with being tracked to get personalized service. It is not enough to ask the user, "Can we send you information on related items?" or "Can we tailor the presentation of the site to the types of requests you've made in the past?" As part of asking users if they want personalization, the e-business should explain that it involves constructing user profiles based on tracking the visitors' past site behaviors.