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Andrea Long writes, Audience-Driven Web Development

Getting to know your audience, and what drives them, is the foundation to designing and developing any website. Everything about web design should be tailored not to the designer's personal needs, but to the needs of your audience, visitors, and users. The difference between users/visitors and your audience is that your audience includes the users and visitors whom you are actually trying to send your messages to (Ragle-Davis). These are the people with whom you are trying to form relationships with. Before you design a website, it is important to either research your target audience and it's culture, or completely immerse yourself in their culture. Aaron Griffith recommends designers do this by reading what your audience reads and learning from others who have already successfully learned your audience's language. Your audience greatly affects all aspects of web design including the broad categories of design and content.

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Design

The design aspect of a website encompasses everything from color choice to layout, all of which are extremely important to the website's overall effectiveness. Design is typically the first thing your audience will notice when they get to your page. If the site is aesthetically pleasing, the user is more likely to stay on the page. Designers can make the page aesthetically pleasing by utilizing color, pictures, fonts, and layout.

Color

Color plays a key role in website design and how it affects your audience. This includes elements of background color, font color, and color scheme. The background color is important because it sets the theme for other colors throughout the site. For example, if it is an environmentalist webpage, one might expect the main colors to be"earthy" like greens, browns, and neutrals. The background color or image should also not be distracting to the overall purpose of your webpage. In the below image, it is easy to see how the background can be a distraction, and draws reader's eyes away from important information.

Your audience likely thinks of certain colors as having specific meanings. It is important to know which colors they associate with these meanings. For example, the color blue means different things to different cultures. In Eastern culture, blue means wealth and self-cultivation while in Western culture it symbolizes sadness or depression (Kyrnin). It is important to conduct research on what colors mean to different cultures so you can be sure to choose colors based on your desired outcomes.

It is also important to make sure that background color does not interfere with font color. For instance, if you choose to make your background color ivory, you may not want to use white as your font color because that would make it incredibly hard to read, especially for certain audiences. High contrast between background color and font color is crucial to increase readability. This is especially true if you are trying to appeal to an older audience who cannot see well. The below image is an example of a bad choice of text colors. The blue text on the blue background makes it very difficult to read.

You must know your audience before choosing a color scheme because some color schemes can mean different things to different groups of people. An example of this is if a Canadian website creator was designing a webpage for his Canadian company and used the colors red, white, and blue, some users might think that the site is about the United States or Americans. Also, if an American user we're to access this site and found it to be in French, it might confuse him or her.

Pictures

Not all websites include photographs or pictures, but if you are planning on using them in your web design, you must know your audience and their attitudes. For example, if your website is geared toward children, you may want to include age-appropriate pictures to get and hold their attention. In the same way, if your website is meant to attract Democrats, you may not want to include pictures of George W. Bush. Of course this example is a bit extreme, but the idea is that picture and photograph selection should largely be based on your audience. You must also be sure that there are not too many pictures on your site. Of course, for some websites such as a portfolio, this might be acceptable. However, for most sites, like the one pictured below, it is quite harmful to have too many pictures because the audience may feel like they are not getting enough information.

Fonts

The text of your website is one of the most important parts; this is what drives your audience. Selecting fonts can bea long, boring process but font choice is very important to your webpage. Studies show that the easiest fonts to read on computer screens include Arial, Courier, and Verdana, while Comic Sans was found to bethe most illegible of the fonts evaluated (Thomason). Though you may think of these fonts as quite plain, according to the article "15 Must-Know Facts on How People View Websites," fancy fonts are actually ignored. As far as font color goes, as mentioned before, it is important that it does not conflict with background color. Font size is also largely based on audience type. If your website's target audience is senior citizens, you may want to increase the size of your webpage's font. The below image is a screenshot from the AARP website. The company's website most likely has a target audience of retired people. With that in mind, it made sure to use larger fonts, contrasting colors, and a font that is easy to read.

Layout

Your website's layout must adhere to your audience's needs and preferences. If your website targets research-seekers, it may be appropriate to have a lot of text. However, if your audience consists of older people or children, less text may be better. The use of white space has the potential to either drive your audience away (if there is too little used) or to keep them tuned in (if used appropriately). If there is too much white space used, it can lead to a boring, uninspiring layout such as the one pictured below.

This white space is directly connected to paragraph length, and according to Kaevand, short paragraphs work better than long ones. It is important to understand how people view a webpage so you can decide where to put the most important information to your audience and where to put the information that is least important. People start viewing your website from the top left corner, therefore it is necessary to put important information here (Kaevand). According to the article "15 Must-Know Facts on How People View Websites," The least important information can come at the bottom because people typically only scan the lower parts of your website. The below diagram from use it.com provides a visual of how audiences viewed three different webpages. The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn't attract any fixations (Nielsen).

Content

The content of your website is also a vital part of website creation. As mentioned previously, the text of your website is the tool we use to motivate our audience. This is how webpage creators get their points across or motivate their audience to take a certain action. Words drive people and according to Kaevand, text actually attracts more attention than pictures. Many parts of content can contribute to an overall audience-friendly website, but the main parts include tone, diction, and organization.

Tone

The tone of your website's content sets the tone for your webpage as a whole. Your audience should greatly affect the tone you use. In fact, Partridge defines tone as "a verbal expression of mood best adapted according to the audience." The tone you use to deliver your message would be very different with an audience of4 year-olds as opposed to an audience of 50 year-olds. The article "How to Develop your Website's Tone of Voice" notes that there are two important questions to ask before defining the appropriate tone for your website: who is your target audience and what does your website want to achieve. If you are creating a website for your company, you would most likely use a professional tone. On the other hand, if you are creating a website to keep your family connected, it may be more appropriate to us a personal tone. It is also important to remember to keep your tone consistent throughout your website and subsequent pages.

Diction

Word choice is crucial in website creation. In fact, Usborne, a coach for freelance online writers, suggests, "words are your last, best way to differentiate yourself online." This makes word choice not only important but a defining factor of your website. Obviously your diction could be quite different based on your intended audience. If your audience consists of scientists, you may be able to get away with more scientific jargon, but if you are trying to reach high school students, you might have to change your diction. Not only is word choice important, but the way you string together those words also has an influence on the overall affect of your website. For instance, children are better at reading and understanding short, easy sentences, while on the other hand, college-level professors can easily interpret and understand longer, more complex sentences. Knowing your audience should have a strong influence on diction choices.

Organization

Organization of your website helps your readers in a variety of ways. It helps them better understand what is being discussed, and with the use of visual cues, find the information they desire. One way to direct audience's attention to a particular part of your website is to use headings or titles. This makes navigation of the text easier. As the article "Writing for a Web Audience," says, the heading is what users will read first to learn if they want to read further. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure your heading is reflective of what is in the following paragraphs. Readers also tend to scan webpages, so emphasizing key concepts can help your readers find the most important ideas. This can be done by using bold font, utilizing a different font color, or highlighting desired text (Petersen). Using bullets or other types of lists also helps readers find certain information on your website when they are scanning. For example, the following instructional website is a how-to on making cookies. It includes both a bulleted list and a numbered list, making it easy to find the most important elements.

It is now common for website creators to use the inverted pyramid style of writing, meaning the most important information comes first. This style of writing fits well with the needs of people who scan because they can get the key points quickly, and continue reading for detail only if interested (Petersen). If your website is poorly organized, chances are your webpage will not have the desired affects on your audience.

Conclusion

As you can see, a lot goes into creating an audience-friendly website. Many elements have to becarefully researched and recorded so you know what your audience likes, doesn't like, or finds compelling. All aspects of webpage creation are influencedin one way or another by the audience you are trying to reach. These aspects include, but are not limited to, color, pictures, fonts, layout, tone, diction, and organization. There are many more categories in the broader categories of design and content that should be explored, however these are some of the areas that need the most attention. One of the key things to take away from this is that you are designing based on your audience's wants and desires, not your own. In order to cultivate ongoing relationships it is important that you know your audience and create something that caters to their needs.

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Posted in Web Design Post Date 09/17/2016


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