A Heuristic Approach to Web Design

“Heuristic”… serving to indicate or point out, stimulating interest.

So in web design a heuristic approach is to embrace the way people experience and use a website so as to encourage them to find out more, or indeed to spend money.

There’s la lot of information available from UX research. An abbreviation for “user experience” research of which there are many, many kinds. Indeed the UK Government published guidance on using UX research so it’s pretty fundamental and well recognized. Although having said that, you could argue that it’s what you do all the time in web design. You perhaps spend painful hours trying to establish the best way to engage a user and how best to get them to “click” to go to the page you want them to.

Heuristic evaluation on the other hand is far more structured in its approach in establishing your approach and is not dissimilar to equations, you know, if A+B=C where A=10 and C=15, what value is B? There is a very interesting and useful document on the whole process here http://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/user-research.html

Cutting to the quick though, there has been a lot of work going back several years into how people make decisions and as we are busy people, a deal of those decisions can just be reflex or habitual, but designers can use this research to their advantage when looking at website layout.

Indeed one common effect established in research was that of users acceptance of a website or suppliers default settings. In an interesting article http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2011/09/14/do-users-change-their-settings/ that I credit to one Jared Spool. It was established with interesting amusement that a programmer in Microsoft had set all default settings on a program to zero as it was quicker to program and assumed that someone would give him the right settings later. No one did tell him, thus millions of us just went on using that particular version of Word without the most ideal set up. The point? Users tend to just accept the default, thus if you don’t explain well enough how your product will work and what a user needs for it to perform its application correctly, you could get some unhappy customers who’ve bought the wrong model and you’re going to have a lot of costly returns.

Rarity: I recall watching a program on TV that looked at children’s diet (I’m sorry I can’t recall which channel). In the program one group of children at a party were offered one buffet with a vast array of wonderful choices and another group offered a far smaller range of equally lovely food. The children offered a vast range took much more than they needed in a rather less than select way, whereas the children offered much less were far more selective, choosing carefully what they would like and taking a much better balanced meal because (if was concluded) they needed nourishment and the food was less available.

The rarity factor as established in heuristic research can be used in design to help sell. It turns out that if we think a product is rare, uncommonly available or available for only a short time, we are more likely to purchase it. Thus limited time special offers do work, so you would need to include the ability to promote them in your design brief.

Until next time


avatar Name: Alex Eager
About: Alex has worked as a Financial Controller and Finance Director for many years for a variety of companies across a range of industries but more recently she has moved away from accounting working for an internet marketing agency as Finance and Operations director, primarily overseeing the finance functions and search engine optimisation (SEO) for clients. Follow Alex on G+ and on Twitter @Alex_BusDirUK Alex runs her own company with two fellow owners developing a suite of e-commerce web sites and promoting them directly. “I found that SEO and finance were quite compatible both needing an eye for detail, research and analysis as well keeping up with new developments and changes.” Visit Alex's G+ Profile. and Twitter
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