"What are you doing here?"
A techie asked me that question at a session on usability (UX), organized as a Web Content Mavens meet-up last week. He wasn't impolite, just curious when I told him what I do.
I replied that as a content producer (aka writer), I want to know the whole picture about how to create a good website, not just receive an assignment to write a certain number of words or make an already-written piece "web friendly." No, I won't set up testing sessions, but I do need to understand how I can help deliver what users need.
My reason seemed in line with the points of Duane Degler, a principal of Design for Context, whose presentation was an overview of usability.
Here are a few notes from his talk, and my takeaways about what they mean for content.
Tour the Landscape
User experience, he said, means people come to a site with different needs:
- Anticipation and engagement (coming for the first time)
- Social interaction (connecting with you and other users)
- Expectations over time (returning to the site)
- Comparisons over time (coloring perceptions of your website because of their experience with others with similar purposes)
My content takeaway: Consider these different needs when writing. How much background, introductory info should we provide? What's new for returning visitors? How does our site compare with others in our field, be they university admissions sites, hospitals, etc.?
Listen to People
How do potential users describe positive online experiences they have had--what language do they use, tone that resonate with them, images they evoke?
Takeaway: Write based on what you learn. For example, the same basic information can be presented to sound friendly, authoritative, zany, etc.
Dimensions of User Experience
Degler showed a slide image of "the dimensions of user experience," with context at the core, surrounded by business dimension, users, tasks, and content.
Takeaway: Think through users' what, where, and when: For example, seeking a specific, practical bit of information while walking with a smartphone is different than sitting in an office, browsing on a big screen.
Consider the Tasks
Most tasks online encompass multiple steps--whether to donate, share information, buy an item, or anything else. Interruptions, both external (the phone rings) and internal (the visitor needs a password before going further), impede progress. We need to make it easy, or we will lose the user.
Takeaway: The writer can suggest streamlined processes, simple language, icons. We are not the masterminds doing the code, but we do have a role as part of the team.
How People Search
Degler described a five-step flow of how people do a search:
First, they formulate what they are looking for. Then they seek by entering a phrase in Google or other search engine. They evaluate the results, and they may review one, two, or more of them. Finally, depending on what they find, they may refine their terms and re-start the process.
Takeaway: Keywords and meta descriptions (the mini-summaries that accompany search results) are critical to people finding, and returning to, websites.
So, that is why I attended and was glad I braved the cold to do so.