Website structure and designing user experience

Tue 22nd Oct 2013

Before beginning to think about what your new website looks like, you should sit down with your web designer and consider how users might search for products and information, this is called user experience and is likely to dictate the appearance and layout of the site.

You need to consider what the user might be looking for and how you make it easy for them to find it. The visual design of your website should work with the structure, prioritising elements that have been identified as important in order to guide users towards what they need. This is called User Experience and the design aspect is called User Interface (often shortened to UX and UI respectively) a combination of visual design, structure and usability.

Information architecture

The structure of a website or 'information architecture' is all about organising the products, services and content of a website so that users can find what they are looking for, sometimes even when they might not know what that is themselves!

One of the key aspects of user experience is the site navigation and, if appropriate, search facilities. Ideally users should be able to find information and products using navigation alone, but you might have to consider that your user doesn't know exactly what they need so are looking for information and a solution to a problem rather than a specific product or service. Remember that you know and understand your products and services inside out but the people visiting your website won't!

Consider future growth - expanding an existing website

Smaller websites probably won't need to consider much of the above, but what happens when your business grows and you need to include more information and more products? Adding to an existing site is often more complicated than starting from scratch, you should consider how the new website elements relate to the existing ones. Simply tacking new things onto the site might work in the short term but can lead to lumbering, awkward and unusable navigation in the future.

Summary

In summary, when considering user experience the main point is to make your website easy to use by someone who knows nothing about your business or products.

Large companies spend a lot of time on user testing and this has great benefits for small business websites too; before making any major changes to an existing site or before launching a new one to ask a couple of people to test it by giving them a task to complete. This may prove that you have made a great job of your website structure, or it might uncover a previously overlooked flaw that could have lost you business and remained undiscovered for some time. Sometimes all you need is a fresh set of eyes on your work!

by Rachel Watson