There's a new survey comparing how designers and users see the Web. I saw at least one distraught reaction to the report, but the disparity in responses is nothing but predictable. Of course designers and users view the Web differently. The critical question throughout is whether users still can accomplish what they need to online. Some questions help illuminate this, and some just confuse things.
(The questions below are paraphrased, because the audiences were surveyed differently. Check the survey report link above for the accurate questions.)
Question 1: In your opinion, how important is good visual design? (Very important, Important, Somewhat important, Slightly important, Neutral.)
Panicky sound bite: Over 80% of designers answer Very important, but only 50% of users do!
My take: I'm surprised the difference isn't even greater. Who are the 20% of designers who think visual design is unimportant, and how can I avoid ever working with them?
On the other hand, I translate the opinions of 50% of users as "I take visual design for granted, except when it gets in my way." For most sites, visual design should be there to support user tasks. Business goals like branding and differentiation are secondary.
This is a poorly stated question. A user's opinion about the importance of visual design doesn't matter at all. What matters is whether the visual design helps or hinders users in accomplishing their goals.
Question 2: When you visit a web page, do you usually know where you are, where you can go next, and which pages are related? (Almost always, Most of the time, Rarely, Almost never, Don't know.)
Panicky sound bite: 70% of designers think users can Almost always orient themselves on their websites. For a typical website, only 10% of users answer Almost always!
My take: Looking more closely at the data, there's another interpretation: 90% of users can orient themselves at least Most of the time.
This answer, again, is not a bit surprising. Observe users trying a new website, and it's obvious "almost always" is too high a threshold. Over and over in user tests, my participants will struggle mightily finding things or making an application work for them. I'll stew in sympathetic frustration for a while, then ask them "How do you feel about your experience so far?" The most common answer is "It's okay so far I guess."
Users expect to have trouble figuring things out. It's unfortunate because they tend to blame themselves for problems designers should have anticipated. On the other hand, it's unrealistic to expect that navigating a new website will have no learning curve. That's why when 80% of users report they're oriented most of the time, it perfectly matches my expectations.
Question 3: If the people who designed the web site could act as your personal guide, would it be helpful?
Panicky sound bite: 40% of users believe a personal guide would Definitely increase their effectiveness, but only 15% of designers agree. Designers overestimate the clarity of their work!
My take: When you visit an unfamiliar library or bookstore, to find a specific book, you probably do one of three things:
- Ask someone who works there
- Look for a map to orient yourself, then find the book yourself
- Just start looking
On the Web, there's no direct analogue to the first option. If there were, of course some people would use it. 40% seems high to me, however. It's a good reminder how much your site's new users value step-by-step instructions, breadcrumbs, and clear "escape hatch" links back Home.