This Is 40 - blog article by Jeremy Girard, Pumpkin-King.com

This Is 40

For my father’s 40th birthday, some friends from our neighborhood decided to throw him a surprise party. One of those neighbors volunteered to host and, all in good fun, they decked their house out in black balloons and decorations featuring grim reapers and large letters proclaiming my father to be “Over the Hill.”

At the time, I was 12 years old and I remember being at this party and thinking how old my father was - that he was indeed over that proverbial hill. Interestingly, 40 doesn’t seem quite as old now that I am celebrating that milestone in my own life.

A Matter of Perspective

It’s difficult to fully understand a perspective that you do not personally share. At the age of 12, my 40th birthday seemed infinitely far away and my ideas were based on my own limited perspective. Yes, my father was older than I was, but that did not mean that the Reaper was at his doorstep (despite what the party’s balloons may have suggested). As I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to see where my lack of perspective caused me to have an incomplete understanding of this, and many other, situations.

A lack of perspective influencing opinions, and ultimately driving decisions, is something I see quite a bit as a web designer. Far too often, the thoughts of the people who will actually need to use a website, a company’s customers, are excluded from that site’s design process. This is especially true for smaller web projects where budgets are slim and user testing is deemed a luxury rather than a necessity. This is an unfortunate decision. After all, how can you truly know what your customers want unless you ask them?

Bottom line - a successful web design project should include some kind of participation and feedback from the people for whom the site is being designed.

I Am Guilty Too

I do not offer this suggestion that customer testing and feedback in website design should be a requirement from some sanctimonious position. On the contrary, I am as guilty of skipping user testing as anyone and I write this today as a call to action for myself as much as for anyone else! I also realize that getting user testing included on all projects will not be easy.

I think back to when we first began using a responsive design approach for our client projects at Envision. At first, we added it to proposals as an optional item. Some clients choose that option, others did not. Today, every single website that moved forward without going responsive suffers for that decision and we no longer make responsive an option. Responsive web design is now included in all our projects because it is simply the way we build websites today – with a multi-device approach. This is how we need to address user testing. It can no longer be an option that is easily dismissed. Yes, budgets may be tight and gathering customer feedback during the design process will be a challenge for most projects, but if we want those projects to be a success, we need that feedback.

No matter how much we think we know about our customers, we do not share their unique perspective, and unless we ask them for their opinions and feedback, we are really just guessing at what they want and need from the sites we are designing and developing.

On The Topic of “User Testing”

The term “user testing” scares many people – myself included. This is because it conjures up images of complicated testing sessions with dozens of participants tearing apart your website while you nervously watch from another room. The reality is that customer participation in your website design project does not need to be so formal or involved (or scary).

If your project and budget are small, then simply having a somewhat informal meeting to show what you are working on to a few customers and seeing what works for them and what needs to be rethought (and then putting in that work to improve the design based on their feedback) is a major step forward from no testing at all.  Yes, this type of more informal testing will not work as well if you are building a large E-commerce site for a global audience, but if that is what you are building, your budget should in line with the overall scope of your project and it should include room for sufficient testing.

If you’d like to do some additional reading on user testing, for projects both big or small, I recommend starting with Steve Krug’s books, "Don’t Make Me Think” and “Rocket Surgery Made Easy”.

Thanks for reading. I’m now off to blow out a whole bunch of candles on my birthday cake and wonder why my 10-year old son is looking at me like I'm an old man. Yes, I have a young son and he thinks I am old. The irony is not lost on me.


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