When we design, sometimes the simplist thing that we can do is design for what we “think” our customer would want – which ends up turning out as what we the designer would want. Often times, research is a neglected area for small businesses, and even when large businesses do it, it’s sometime not executed properly. The question is, why does this happen? Again, the simplist answer would be to blame the lack of funds or company politics but as designers it is our job to seek out the truth and provide and execute solutions that meet the needs of our customers. There are many resources out there that provide free access to tools and data that are helpful in determining the approach to a design.
One of your primary targets for data and research should be your existing websites. Collecting data is easy using Google Analytics. Currently it is one of the most popular tools for gathering statistical information on a site. All that is needed is a piece of code to be added to each page so that it can be tracked. In some cases you may not even need that. Just point the Google Analytics tool in the right direction and off it goes! You’ll find out in a few weeks how many people are visiting your site in a day (unique visitors), how long people are staying on your site, and even a rate of how many people instantly leave your site after viewing only one page (also known as the bounce rate).
If you’re using WordPress there are many plugins out there that can connect your blog to Google Analytics or other statistics tools. There are even widgets that display dashboards on your site or admin pages. Adding analytics to your site can help you find out when you are getting the most visits, which posts are the most popular and this will ultimately help you learn what your customer wants and expects from your site. Chances are they have a need for information or services and when you provide that to their satisfaction, you build yourself a reputation of being a customer focused company.
Large businesses put a lot of emphasis on being customer focused and are willing to pay a great deal to get their hands on the right information about their customers. Agencies such as Sapient, Ove, and others are excellent at providing the research and knowledge for producing great designs. I will comment though, that sometimes their designs aren’t always top notch, but their research and process are strong compared to some other agencies.
What tools do you use? Are there other free or paid tools that you prefer? And if so, why?
Next article will be on the importance of process, the weakest links, and how it ultimatley affects design on the web.