What we know now about website design compared to a few years ago, is that more focus is given to user experience not owner experience. Seems obvious, right? Well this is easier said then done. You may say, "of course I care what my targeted audience wants" but your actions say "I'm spending a small fortune on my new brand and web presence, so I'm going to tell them what I want." You certainly have every right to think that, but if you want to achieve both, you're going to have to forget what you think you know about websites and listen to those who do. Users (and agencies like us ;) ).
Three "no brainer" tips:
1) If you every get deep into a website and you want to get back to the homepage, what do you do? Winner, winner, chicken dinner if you said click the logo. A true user experience design begins with consistent navigation. This might come as a shock to you, but users spend 99.9% of their time on other websites, not yours. So they have formed expectations for your site based on what most other sites are doing. Differ too far from the norm, then your site will be harder to use and users will leave. Use some clever flash based, hidden navigation, then you've just entered a new dimension of ticked off users. And yes, there are firms still using flash.
2) Want to search a site? Look up in the upper right corner, most likely there's a search bar. This is one of the easiest ways you can add to the user's experience. There are other ways to make your site easy to search. For example, you can add a search bar to highly visited sections (like the bio page) for a more refined search. You could also add a list of categories as a drop down in the main search bar. Either way, adding a search bar and your users will thank you.
3) Spotting links on a webpage is something everyone knows by now. Rather a different color or underlined, styling links properly is a must to create a great user experience design. And don't forget about clickable elements such as linked images.
Three "hard to swallow" tips:
1) Ever heard of the expression BLOT or Bottom Line On Top? Your messaging should be conversational but to the point. Website messaging is often owner experience designed without thinking that today's user scans websites instead of reads them. Companies get caught up using $25 dollar words when a 25¢ word will do just as well. Think of it like reading a book backwards. Users today want to know the ending first, before they invest anymore time.
2) Most people that land on your site, know what you do. People don't come knocking on your door and ask you who you are. Right? Same thing goes when someone visits your website. They don't come to a professional services firm's website and think you're a church or a restaurant. No one is randomly landing on your page, they are lead there. Whether they arrive by a search engine or a business card, they are visiting for a reason. This is where all your hard work on the site map and wireframe pays off. Don't over think what's on a homepage. Put too much information on it and you'll scare them away.
3) A lot of time is spent finding the right image that best speaks to you and not them. A visitor decides within seconds if they are going to read more or navigate to the next level. Pick an image that speaks to the message. Like in a magazine, let the headline tell the story and the image support the headline. If you are a educational institution, then you don't need an apple sitting on a desk for the user to know who you are. If you are a law firm, you don't need the scales of justice in front of a wall of law books. Remember the tip mentioned above, the user knows why they are on your site so give them a little credit.
We all want to tell our story and hope that the audience will listen. When in reality, the visitor is thinking "who are you? why should I care? and what can you do for me?" Follow these tips and hopefully your next website will be more user focused and not owner focused.