Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the February 26, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Ilese Benun’s just-published book, Designing Websites
for Every Audience (F & W Publications), is a visual treat. Chock
full of colorful, engaging illustrations, this Internet design how-to
could not be more user friendly.
There are detailed case studies, looking at just how specific websites
work, and portraits of Internet users, divided into categories according
to how they use the ‘Net. Woven in are factoids that are so interesting
that they book is worth reading even for those who are not planning
For example, in a section on The Digital Divide: Who’s Online, we
learn the following about degrees of connectedness:
more affordable than in other parts of the world. Americans generally
pay a flat-rate fee per local telephone call, a much cheaper alternative
to the per-minute fees incurred by telephone users in the United Kingdom
and other countries. About half the country’s population uses the
Internet. This is in stark contrast to most of the rest of the world.
The United States has more Internet users than all of Asia, which
has over one-half the world’s population. There are about as many
Internet users in New York City as in all of Africa.
ethnic lines in the United States. According to a 2001 study by the
U.S. Department of Commerce, Asian Americans, who make up about 4
percent of the population, have the highest rate of Internet penetration
— about 60 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, only about
40 percent of blacks and 31 percent of Hispanics have Internet access.
By gender. Two reports in 2000 concluded that the percentage
of men online in the United States differs from that of women by less
than one point, a clear reversal of the male-dominated Internet.
Matrix and Jupiter Communications found that the biggest increase
in Internet users came in girls age 12 to 17, who were attracted by
chat rooms and websites for popular teen magazines, fashion, and rock
designers need to look past these labels and through to the essence
of their users. Benun divides these individuals into six categories
— learners, shoppers, connection seekers, transactors, business
browsers, and fun seekers.
type of Internet user and then dissects three to five websites catering
to each. The emphasis is on redesigning websites so that they will
serve the needs of the surfers drawn to them. Along the way —
in concise sidebars — she provides information on basics, including
the use of photos, passwords, Flash animation, and much more.
Here are excerpts from Benun’s characterizations of each type of surfer:
task-driven like many on the Web, but willing to linger longer on
a site or page where they find something of interest. Users in research
mode use the Internet like an encyclopedia, employing search engines
to scour online databases, news and information sites, and anything
else related to their research subject. They are extremely dependent
on good front-end and back-end design; if they encounter long database
query times and poorly designed user interfaces, they leave and look
Shoppers. In the same way that finding information online
can be broken down into a variety of activities, so too can shopping.
At the very least, shopping involves browsing, selecting, and purchasing.
Each shopper may do any of these activities either online or offline.
Some people want to touch before they buy, but want to get as much
information as possible from the Web to prepare for the magical moment.
Others would rather do it all in their pajamas at midnight when it’s
Users in buying mode have a particular product in mind when they log
onto an E-commerce site. They are aware and active. They have spent
time researching the product and collecting opinions from those who
already own it. They will often follow links that facilitate their
purchase or promise big discounts.
Online buyers depend on good user interfaces and are easily frustrated
with poor shopping experiences. The computer interface is often the
only contact the customer has with an E-commerce site, so good Web
design is undoubtedly key to a site’s success. Because shopping online
is almost exclusively a visual experience, an E-commerce site need
to compensate for the missing sensory experience of tangibility through
careful visual design and other multimedia features that create the
illusion of dimensionality.
who or what or how you are, you can find people with whom to exchange
ideas and from whom you can learn — people you would normally
walk by on the street without a second glance. When it comes to communicating
with others on the Web, connection seekers are not in surf mode. They
are curious and interested in seeing who and what is out there. They
have a goal in mind, but they are open, searching, and willing to
take their time.
Connection seekers are people who to to a designforcommunity.com to
read and respond to ongoing discussion topics; they are potential
volunteers searching VolunteerMatch.org for a place to lend a hand;
they are Red Sox fans looking to connect with others via the weblog,
Bambinoscurse.com They might be parents of children with learning
problems looking for support at Schwablearning.com, or they may be
lonely people making an effort to meet others for fun and frolic on
Nerve.com’s personals site.
those who have embraced the Web as a way to take care of business.
These users have taken activities such as paying bills, trading stocks,
buying gifts, and checking cell phone usage online, because it is
more convenient and efficient.
Transactors appreciate a clean, uncluttered design that guides them
exactly where they need to go in order to accomplish their goals.
Keeping clicks to a minimum, eliminating unnecessary options, and
using clear language all help to make the user’s experience pleasant
design, some might say, "What design?" Often it’s true that
the focus is more on the functional rather than the aesthetic. Most
business-to-business sites are developed as tools for improving processes,
productivity, and profitability, often at the expense of design. This
is partially due to a fundamental difference between business users
and consumers: to business users, utility is more important than appearance.
Business Web users are savvier than ever and tend to ignore gratuitous
eye candy or superfluous bells and whistles. The sites that work best
for them support handoffs among the multiple people involved in researching,
recommending, deciding, approving, paying, and receiving the product.
Websites that work for business browsers are clean, well-organized,
and focused primarily on delivering information to a customer with
the fewest number of keystrokes or clicks. Whether it’s a personal
need or a business need they’re seeking to satisfy, business users
are usually on a mission to get something done, and business-to-business
websites must enable users to perform their jobs more efficiently.
<B>Fun seekers. Those looking for fun online browse
in the same relatively passive way they watch television: they’re
channel surfing, looking for something new and interesting. Sometimes
they have a subject in mind, a particular singer they want to hear
or a game they want to play, so it’s important to keep links contextual
in order to keep these users around for hours.
Ironically, someone seeking entertainment rather than specific information
is likely to be more critical of content quality. Users may tolerate
sloppy editorial material and low-quality images when their primary
purpose is to transact business; but when a pleasant, fun experience
is what they are after, the site had better deliver. On the other
hand, because fun seekers expect entertainment destinations such as
online games, movie sites, and e-zines to have more graphics and interactive
features, users tend to be more forgiving about lengthy download times
when they’re in fun-seeking mode than when they’re working.
of website makeovers in categories which appeal to each type of Internet
user. Among the learner websites she dissects is the Wall Street Journal
Online, and another local company, Berlitz, shows up in the Business
Most of the websites given as examples are quite high-profile; they
include Consumer Reports, H & R Block, Volunteermatch, and Smith &
Hawken. Nevertheless, the lessons apply to websites of all sizes.
Any business owner with a website would do well to spend some time
with this book. Fun seekers will like it too. It is easily as enjoyable
as a coffee break spin around the ‘Net. This a book which laces its
no-nonsense advice with lots of eye candy.
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