Know your audience. It sounds simple, but it's a key usability guideline which many companies miss. Designers jazz up their work based on internal feedback, copywriters add jargon to please the sales department, and a complicated, unusable website results.
In the dot-com roaring nineties, pets.com was the darling of investors and the media, until its sudden collapse in November 2000. Suddenly everyone realized, once the novelty had worn off, that shopping for pet food online actually was inconvenient for most people. Pets.com thought their online cache was enough to sustain them, but they didn't know their audience.
Companies focused on design for their audience often create personas to represent their audience. Personas can be given names and associated with photographs, moving a distant, abstracted audience directly to everyone's desktop or bulletin board.
Good knowledge of your audience is critical to usability testing. It's a must to recruit representative participants whose goals, demographics, and expertise mirror that of your target audience.
Tomorrow's post will describe the second important usability guideline: know why your users have come to you. What are they trying to accomplish?