User Centered Design
On the surface UCD is simple enough, yet properly executing it takes good planning and preparation as well as continual effort. As it relates to your website, applying the principles of UCD requires you to predict and analyze how people are likely to use your site. It encompasses every aspect of the site’s structure including design (looks good), navigation (works well, easy to use), and content (meets users’ needs).
The key to UCD is optimizing your site’s design and contents to fit the users’ needs, preferences, and abilities rather than trying to force them to change their behavior to fit the site’s design. The core of UCD is people. The aim is to build a site which users can interact with in a way that is natural and gratifying.
By making a genuine effort to put people at the core of your site’s purpose for existence, the benefits of UCD are substantial, including most of the following:
Increased user satisfaction and productivity.If your site meets the needs of its users, they will be happy with it and will get the most out of their experience when using it.
High likelihood of user loyalty and return visits.If your site provides the tools and information that its users need or want, they will continue to revisit the site again and again. The reverse is equally true.
A greater sense of user ownership and increased usage.If your site is built around the needs of your users, they are much more likely to actually utilize and take pride in it as well as share it with others.
A more engaged community of users.If your site provides opportunities for users to connect with one another in a way that meets their needs, they will do it. Often.
A head start on search engine optimization.If your site is focused on meeting the needs of its users, search engines will naturally match it to relevant searches.
UCD Helps You Know Your AudienceAnother key benefit of UCD is that doing it correctly and consistently forces you to get to know your site’s users very well, which in turn allows you to meet their needs even better .
PlanThe planning phase involves asking a lot of questions in order to study your users as completely as possible. Since the sole focus of UCD is the user, you should become intimately familiar with their needs, preferences, and abilities so you can effectively adapt your site. Key questions to discuss with your team (adapted from usability.gov):
Identify your audience and involve them from the start
- Who are the primary users of the site?
- How would you describe the users? Develop user characteristics such as age, experience, education, culture, etc. Consider
creating personas based on these characteristics to put a face on
- Why will they come to the site? Outline user needs, interests, goals, and expectations
- When and where will they access the site? Determine user environment and context
- How will they access the site? Identify
what hardware and software users will use to access your site
including type of device (mobile, desktop, laptop), internet
connection speed, screen resolution, internet browser, etc.
and Prioritize User Tasks and Goals
- How will the users use the site?
- Which features do they need?
- Which features do they want?
- Which features will they use the most?
- Which features are prone to usability issues?
- How do the users think your site should work?
- What will compel users to return to the site?
Determine usability objectives
tasks should users be able to accomplish easily and with few
tasks should users be able to complete efficiently?
level of satisfaction should users have after using the site?
expectations, requirements & preferences
is your vision of what the site should do?
there any restraints, mandates, or guidelines for the site?
In the United States, all government and many non-profit organizations which receive federal funding are required to conform to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If yours is one of them, be sure to factor this in when planning the site’s design and content. Additionally, the Department of Justice has set a precedent of backing lawsuits filed against websites that do not conform to Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
there any sites you would like to model or a particular style that
do the users think your site should look?
message should the site convey to users?
Determine accessibility requirements and needs
types of accessibility testing will be done?
types of accessibility tools will be used?
available resources and needs
resources are available for updating and maintaining the site?
you have content writers skilled in writing for the Web or is
anyone willing to learn?
you have access to a graphic designer?
you have access to a photographer?
will be responsible for updating and maintaining the site?
is in charge of site marketing and promotion?
Involve Future Users
Set goals for the site so that when it’s time to measure your success, it will be easy to compare what you’ve accomplished with what you planned.
Think about the following questions when considering your goals:
- How would you define a
successful website for your church?
- What does success look like?
- How will you know when you have been successful?
Set a Timeline
Determine a timeline for incorporating UCD into your site which includes the following:
- Developing user characteristics
and answers to the key questions above.
- Researching the best ways to
communicate with your users given their needs, preferences, and
- Determining the website’s
organizational structure (information architecture – can be
hierarchical, narrow and deep, shallow and broad, sequential, or
- Creating an outline of the site
that includes content inventory and site maps, and wireframe
illustrations of the page layouts. A basic site map for most
church websites should look something like this
Develop Your Navigation
Define the navigation scheme the site will use possibly including:
Decide on Key Site Features
Decide on the key features of the site. Below is a short list of suggestions but remember to consider your users’ wants and needs first to align them together:
- Audio – sermons, original
music, daily devotions
- Video – upcoming event/sermon
teasers, inspirational skits or clips, staff interviews, facility
tour, latest news, project/campaign updates, welcome from the
- Social Interaction – Facebook,
Twitter, blog, podcast
- Online Forms – registration,
- Online Giving
- Photo Albums
Gather and Create Content
BuildThink about your least favorite website and why it is so. Perhaps it is one you use regularly by choice or otherwise. On a scale of 1-10, how frustrated were you the last time you went there. Are you a little uneasy now just thinking about it? Without even knowing what site you’re thinking of, we know one thing is certain: its designers didn’t have you in mind when they designed it. Is it becoming clearer as to why UCD is so important? Alright then, let’s look at how not to do that to the users of your site.
A user should be able to find information quickly and easily; users with disabilities shouldn’t be hindered in performing important tasks on the site.
- Provide a few ways for users to
find information on the site, while avoiding unnecessary
repetition of elements as it can be confusing and overwhelming. Elements in this category
include navigation menus, sitemap, and search functions.
- Break information up into small,
yet meaningful, pieces.
- Organize the site in a manner
that is meaningful to the users.
A user should never feel “lost” on the site; offer ways for them to orient themselves and navigate throughout the site with little effort
- Use words for your
hyperlinks that effectively describe what a user will find if
they click the link.
- Supply clear navigation telling
users what page they are on, how other pages relate, and how to
get to other pages. Remember that users don’t always enter the
site through the home page.
- Apply the navigation to each
page of the site consistently (same style, placement, etc.). Your Thrive theme will actually do this for you without you having to
think about it.
- Avoid using icons or images for
navigation that aren’t absolutely clear to the vast majority of
Make Your Message Clear
Consider Similar Organizations' Approaches
Keep Your Site Updated
Write for the Web
The Society for Technical Communication described it best when stating “Most users don’t really read web pages .Users looking for their ‘nugget’ of information are more like hunters than like someone out for a leisurely stroll.” Too often, we forget this reality in the transition from website user to website manager. Below are some guidelines for “writing visually”:
Use headings to draw attention to important sections and divide page content. Headings and subheadings should only occupy one line of space.
Use Proper GrammarAvoid run-on sentences by using simple sentence structure.
Keep Sentence and Paragraph Structure Simple
Write short sentences and paragraphs that contain less than 4 sentences. Often, sentences can be made shorter by eliminating unnecessary words.
Use Familiar Words
Use the Active Voice
Use active voice and active verbs for shorter and more readable sentences. “The women’s ministry is holding a gathering after church today” instead of “A gathering is being held by the women’s ministry after church today”
Use Pictures and Graphics
guidelines for text
- Avoid serif fonts, italics, and
all caps in body text.
- Use left justification for all
body text while indenting text for desired effect when necessary.
- Use colored text
- Use a color scheming tool to
compose a color scheme for the site which includes up to three
accent colors for text in addition to the main body text color,
and then use them consistently throughout the site.
- Be sensitive to cultural and
educational variances prevalent among your users by carefully
using language devices like humor, metaphors, idioms, and
- Avoid copying and pasting
content to your site (especially from print documents) without
editing it for best readability on the Web.
- Avoid using tables for layout
by only using them for information that makes the most sense in a
- Run spelling and grammar checks
on every page of your site prior to publishing them.
- Invest in some good quality
equipment, though not necessarily super-expensive professional
gear, to record and produce your media.
- Focus on the style of media that
your users want most (audio vs. video) and make it the best
possible experience for them that you can within your budget
rather than spreading your resources too thin over several
different formats which may offer little return on investment.
- Use formats that meet or exceed
current web standards (MP3 for audio, H.264 for video).
using popular online media sharing services like E-zekiel.tv that
have easy-to-use player interfaces which you can embed in your
site for a seamless experience.
- Provide text equivalents such as
closed captions or transcripts for audio and video files.
Incorporating images into your site:The site’s graphical design (as in template or theme) should be uncluttered and complementary to the site’s purpose and content. Elements generally referred to as ‘eye-candy’ and ‘features’ should be used sparingly yet intentionally and only to the benefit of the users.
- Incorporate generous amounts of ‘white space’ which forms a virtual padding around elements to help visually organize a page while distinguishing important areas as well as give users’ eyes a place to rest.
- Use pictures and graphics to inform users or illustrate a point as opposed to just decorating the page (this is in reference to foreground elements, not those that are part of the site’s design template or theme).
- Provide concise, relevant and
meaningful alternative text descriptions and advisory titles for
every image so that users with disabilities who are ‘viewing’
your site with a screen reader can make sense of them. These
values are easy to set as you are adding images to your pages in
adding any new feature to the site, consider what benefit it will
provide your users. Make sure you can justify it using
all of the UCD principles otherwise you might be wasting resources
to implement it.
TestingTest your site on as many devices and internet browsers as you can to be sure it looks and works how it was intended to in a wide variety of contexts. Retest regularly since new devices and browser updates are being introduced frequently. If you have limited or no access to other devices and browsers, ask others to assist you with this or use testing software such as crossbrowsertesting.com.
User testing is important but doesn’t have to be an overly formal process. Though if you’re really serious about it, there are some great user testing programs available such as Silverback for Mac and Morae for PC as well as Optimal Workshops web-based tools.
- Find at least ten or more people
who are or will be actual users of the site. If this task proves
to be elusive, find people who match to the user personas you have
developed or are representative of your actual users.
- Ask them to perform some of the
most important tasks on the site with little or no instruction
and then let them browse around the site and give you their
- Notice how quickly they are
able to perform the tasks (taking into account the user’s
individual abilities) and whether there appears to be any
confusion or frustration.
- Also notice areas that tend to
be the most-visited or least-visited and attempt to get some
feedback as to why.
- Revisit the goals you set during
the planning phase and compare them to the results to see which
areas need improvement.
- Desired traffic levels (page
views, return visits, amount of time spent on site, most popular
pages, etc.) can be measured using tools like Thrive’s Statistics
area along with Google Analytics.
- Periodically conduct user testing
along with formal and informal surveys to measure user feedback so
you are aware when it’s time to make some changes to the site.
- Analyze the results of your user
tests and feedback to know which areas need improvement, then go
back to the planning phase and restart the process. This is
something you may do several times over in the life of your website
as the primary user characteristics change and as technology
advances. Factors to be measured should be:
- The user’s ability to
successfully use a website to find information and accomplish tasks
quickly, with ease, and with little or no frustration or error.
- The user’s satisfaction level
with the site.
- Perhaps the best measures of
success for a user-centered site are that it is 1) getting used and
2) getting positive feedback.
purchasing our Website Assessment to see how your site measures up
in several key areas.