Jun 26, 2008

Designing for Diverse Audiences

Folks at Hot have been doing a lot of public speaking lately. So much, in fact, that it seems to be the only thing I have time to blog about.

So, here we are again. Renee Anderson and I gave a talk at the Commonwealth Club last night. It was a bit unnerving because we knew we were being video-taped for Fora TV but we muscled through.

We talked about finding affordable ways to incorporate research into a web design process. While there are some things you want to hire an expert to do (like, say, moderating a focus group), we strongly believe that regular folks can do a lot of research on their own, and that this can help them make better business decisions. After the presentation, one of the attendees sent me this question about designing for diverse audiences.

Question: I was not able to ask you about your approach when you have a wide range of audiences (like, for example, academics, politicians, activists and non-documented immigrants). It would be very nice if you could make some comments about this.

We hear variations of this question all the time, so I thought it would be useful to include our answer here:

Many of our projects involve designing for a wide range of audiences, and this makes the research we do that much more important. Research helps us understand how similar (or dissimilar) the needs of these different audiences are. What information do they need? What level of interaction to they need? How do they need us to speak to them?

Sometimes what we find is that the audiences are so different that they need entirely different web experiences. For example, patients and doctors may be equally important audiences with very different information needs. The words they use are different. The experience that they expect online may be very different.

Other times we find our audiences' needs are overlapping, and we can design one web site that accommodates all.

Many times the design solution involves creating subsets of content for very specific audiences. So we do a lot of thinking about tasks and the different paths our users will take to find the content or functionality they need.

nother tool we use, which we didn't talk about in our program yesterday, is personas, which are fictional characters based on research about our target audiences, and they help us prioritize. Who is our primary audience? Who is secondary? How does this change the web experience?

Here's the full version of last night's presentation:

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