Understanding The Audience

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Defining the User Understanding the Audience

This web design tutorial mostly focuses on communication design. Design solves a problem. You are solving a problem when you create a Web portfolio. The problem is rooted in persuasive communication. Persuasive communication involves de- livering a message with the goal of changing someone’s perception. You want your portfolio to change someone’s perception favorably.

That someone is known as the user. You want the user to have a positive experience when they visit your Web portfolio. This means that your Web portfolio is entertaining, easy to navigate, performs well, and is chock full of vital content. Spending time on conceptualization will help you provide a great experience for the user. In addition, spending time on testing and maintenance helps insure the user remembers you and your site. The most important rules in designing any interactive project are to design for the user and design for communication.

The Web portfolio design process should focus on yielding a user-centered design. Providing a user-centered design means that the needs, expectations, requirements, and navigation abilities of the user are met indefinitely throughout the Web site experience (Lynch & Horton, 1999). We want the users’ needs to be met, but what are their needs? Users want to feel in control. They want to have an error free experience in which they can absorb the content and submerge themselves in the experience. The content drives the experience and the users’ curiosity to engage the Web portfolio, probing for more evidence and more identity. Navigation plays a major role in the value of the experience. If the experience is a negative one, the perceptions of the author will be negative also. This hypothesis is disturbing because it means that our Web portfolio has an influence on the public who views it. The public opinion of our Web portfolio will trickle into our social interactions and professional situations.

An example of this might be a poorly designed teacher portfolio that cannot be viewed successfully or does not deliver a positive experience for users is likely to lessen the opinion of the students, parents, and supervisors towards the author. The Web portfolio validates and provides an assessment vehicle which exceeds professional observers and audiences. More and more, you’ll see the Web portfolio become the symbol for validation of someone’s professional back- ground, ethical standards, and technology skills. There will be pressure to conform in the information society to having an effective and persuasive Web portfolio. As we have mentioned previously in this text, Web portfolio authors must have deep understanding of their particular audience and specific user in order to tailor the contents to persuade. Understanding an audience and a user requires research and critical thinking.

The thought process must go beyond “everyone on the net”. You simply cannot persuade everyone, but you do need to persuade your target audience. Throughout the life of the Web portfolio, you’ll be defining your audience as you change, technology changes, and the audience changes. An example of this changing environment and audience is the advent of a Web browser based cell phones that allow Web sites to be seen through the interface of cellular devices.

This new medium of cell phones requires different thought and technical processes for design and as different audience members who may not fit standard profiles of computer-based users. We do not know unless we do the research. My point here is that although this text does not cover design for cell phone interfaces, you should realize that things are constantly changing and you must make your Web portfolio change in stride. Now let us focus some more on the user. In their Web Style Guide, Lynch and Horton (1999) suggest researching the potential audience to uncover their inherent needs. Let us think about our potential users in the case of the Web portfolio. Who is your user?

Previously we described the Web portfolio as a selling tool. We also focused on the goal of persuading our audience members. Your audience will depend on your individual or company’s goal for the portfolio. Who do you or your company need to persuade? That is your audience definition.

It could be a potential customer or employer. It might be your tenure committee or student’s parents. Maybe the audience includes art galleries or museums. To define the audience, ask the question, “who do I want to persuade with my portfolio?” Think of sample scenarios: my students’ parents are looking at my Web portfolio, or potential clients are using my Web portfolio to build an opinion about my company’s capabilities.

Or, a gallery curator is looking at my Web portfolio to decide if my artwork is worthy of a professional venue. The tenure committee is reviewing my Web portfolio during the application process. Try to narrow down the potential visitors to your site and begin to focus on their needs. And remember, the Web portfolio provides an appearance that trickles into every audience we interact with, so make the experience something that you can be proud of professionally and socially. Lynch and Horton (1999) serve up some important items to consider when r developing user-centered design for the Web.

Coupled with our Web portfolio mission, they establish a good set of general Web portfolio usability guidelines which are listed next. Think about Web sites which you recently have visited or examine a few before you read this section. Look to see if the Web sites have characteristics that make them usable and if they are user-centered in design. Following is a list from Lynch and Horton (1999, pp. 14-18) that I have adapted to fit the Web portfolio application:

  • Provide clear navigation aids for users. Specifically consistent icons, text, colors, and graphic schemes should provide a transparent and intuitive interface design. Simplicity becomes a priority when designing the Web portfolio. Showing off can be done with the portfolio files them- selves. The interface should not become a monster of complexity — for you or the user. When the navigation and interface overwhelm the content, the user gets confused. They do not know what to look at first or most. The navigation should never distract the user from concentrating on the work, so no blinking navigation and keep the interface motion to a minimum.
  • Eliminate dead end pages that lock in users. Make sure that links to home, contact, and top level pages are included on every page. If the Web portfolio has dead ends, your presentation is dead! The life and death of the Web portfolio depends on its ability to work when it is supposed to work. The best way to root out dead links and problem pages is to go through the Web portfolio completely, accessing and testing each link and navigation element. You will do that later on in the process, but keep it in mind while you begin the creative process.
  • Provide direct access to the information users want. Keep the hierarchal structure of your site based on your users’ needs. Important items are top level and should be accessible throughout the site, regardless of the page. Don’t turn the Web portfolio into a treasure hunt where the user has to search to find the golden content. Let access to the most important and most impressive work be immediate, if not faster. You want to engage the user by giving them what they are looking for.
  • Consider users’ bandwidth, and design accordingly. Users will not tolerate long delays. So keep the Shockwave Flash files lean. Optimize your graphics to be as small as possible, but look as good as they can without crippling user performance and creating a bad user experience. The Web portfolio may be your shot to get someone’s attention. You don’t want performance to issues to wast e the opportunity. Spend time doing things right when developing the Web portfolio. Don’t use extra large graphics and expect to scale them down later, the Web pages demand all text, graphics, motion, and animation items be to scale (the final size needed for output).
  • Ask for feedback and encourage dialog from the user. This allows you to gain inquiries, comments, and interaction with your users. It could help build the communication ties between you and the person you are trying to persuade. Always include feedback forms and e-mail contacts on your site. Proactively work towards developing an ongoing relationship with your audience members. Adding feedback forms and e-mail links are a great way to allow the user to connect with you. Get a multitude of friends and family to visit the Web portfolio before the real “official launch” this way, bugs and problems will raise to the surface before the Web portfolio is unleashed on the critical work for hire audience.
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