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The “How To” of Data Collection for Empathetic Web Design

Web design is a highly misunderstood stage within website development. Often seen as the “aesthetic” step in the process, artistic people are often the only ones making design-relatedweb design decisions.  The fact is, you don’t have to know how to draw to make a huge impact on the way a website will look, feel and function.  This is because the aesthetics of a website’s design, like colors, fonts, images and layout, are only part of the entire design process.  A design strategy that is developed based on a prospect’s goals and problems as well as a company’s business objectives will impact what is seen on each web page, the message it is meant to confer and the result that is expected.   

Considering that a website’s design structure is the visual and experiential aspects of a site, it’s critical that its foundation is solid, well thought out, and conceived with the intentions of converting prospective customers.  Start building that groundwork with strategic data collection that is analyzed against the website’s vision and overall business goals.

Gather Intelligence Before Sharing Intelligence

Collect data pertaining to your target audience. “SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD”, the 5th habit from the best seller, 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, is a prerequisite for data collection.  Before working on things you want potential customers to understand about your company, understand their world first.  This awareness will offer insight on how to communicate in a way that attracts and resonates.  Insight collected, analyzed then internalized about your potential customers will then serve as the foundation, framework and filter used in future decisions made on their behalf. 

Your objective at this point is to establish a new context of the world through the customer’s eyes so that you identify opportunities, define problems, and empathize with them.  With this point of view, play out scenarios where the website might help solve a problem, add value or simply make things easier for them. 

A number of methods could be used in combination to collect the data you need, such as:

·         Ethnography: Observe your user segment in their natural settings.

·         Journey Maps:  Chart milestones taken in different problem scenarios beginning with what is triggering the problem, how a solution might be evaluated and what action is “expected” by your prospects.

·         Primary Research: Gathered through in-depth conversations, electronic surveys, or a series of informal discussions.

·         Analytics: Pulled down from your website using Google Analytics or other systems.

·         Existing Secondary Research:  Already compiled on your customer types by external sources (e.g. Forrester, Gartner, etc.). 

Play In a Brain Storm

After you’ve identified the potential customer’s end goals and defined their problems, you are then ready to use divergent thinking to compile alternative approaches to addressing their issues.  Imagine what the “perfect” web design would be like if you had no restrictions on time, money or resources.  In other words, develop your initial website design strategy in a virtual Utopia that has no constraints to limit the number or range of different possibilities.  (While the ideas that arise during this “perfect brain storming session” may be discarded in the end due to realities like budget constraints or deadlines, the concepts may trigger new ways of thinking of the solutions, redefine the problem, or expand the range of possible opportunities).  

Next, consider existing companies, websites, animals, things, people, applications or any other source that executes on your whole solution or parts of your solution very well. Refer to anything online or offline, from any source, inside or outside of your industry or market that would be “best of breed” or “best in class.” (E.g. Michael Phelps Fastskin swimsuit by Speedo was inspired by the varying skin texture of a shark.)  When brainstorming, don’t try to finalize any one approach, nor consider the practicalities that would make it plausible while you are in the process of generating concepts.  Half-baked ideas are acceptable and encouraged as they often serve as spring boards into temporary “blind spots within our imagination”.  The goal is to collect, with an open mind, as many ideas and inspirations as possible, and to build on them.

Armed with this compilation of inspiring data, your team is now ready to take the final two steps to combine and construct the vision for your web design. Check back for our next post that defines the last two steps to designing an empathetic website.

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