Justifying web design decisions

When I first began designing and building websites, I didn’t really have any knowledge of user experience (UX) and I wasn’t too concerned about the user journey. At the time, my main priority was creating something that looked aesthetically pleasing, generally composed of what design elements I had learned how to build at the time.

This was years ago and over that time it has become more and more apparent that you should be able to justify almost every element of your design and the user journey. Why? If you can’t justify your design decisions, then it is likely that the ideas were plucked out of thin air.

By approaching web design with the mindset of being able to explain why you chose a each element of your design, you’ll create a more considered web site, optimised for conversions. How do you go about justifying why you decided on a particular design?

User Experience Disciplines

Usability.gov provides a really good breakdown of the various disciplines involved in user experience:

  • Project Management – the planning and organisation of the project
  • User Research – the process of understanding your users’ behaviour, need and motivations
  • Usability Evaluation – how satisfied are your websites visitors with the process of trying to achieve what they came to your website to do
  • Information Architecture – how is your websites information organised, structured and presented to your visitors
  • User Interface Design – the process of creating an easy to use, easy to understand interface that allows users to carry out whatever actions they need to
  • Interaction Design – this may seem a lot like User Interface Design, but this focuses on the actual interaction with the interface, rather than the interface itself
  • Visual Design – this is the aesthetics of the website and most likely what comes to mind for many people when they think of web design
  • Content Strategy – what content should your website have and how will this be delivered to your visitors
  • Accessibility – how accessible is your website to people with disabilities, visitors using a range of devices and also search engines
  • Web Analytics – the collecting, reporting and analysis of your website’s visitors actions on-site

Honestly, the above is a great resource if you’re getting your head around UX and its various factors, but what does this all mean? Well, what it really means is that you need to be doing a lot of research and a lot of testing.

User Experience Research

Some of the above disciplines will require some considerable research, for example (not surprisingly) user research. Depending on the client, this could be an immense task; imagine doing user research for Amazon…

The research phase will predominantly take up the majority of the early design process. During this phase you will be building up a picture of your users and the hypothesised best ways to get those visitors to convert or achieve their desired goals.

Really, you can’t avoid the research phase if you are trying to build a genuinely optimised, high converting website. It should be guiding your initial decisions from things that seem as trivial as colour and font choices, to more complex considerations such as the interface design and user journey.

User Experience Testing

As with research, many of the UX disciplines also require a testing phase. This is where you can put your hypotheses from the research phase to the test. This stage is important because here is where you can essentially justify your design decisions.

Is All Of This Practical?

Honestly, the above research and testing is not always going to be practical in the real world. Why? Budgets. Each project will have a set budget and it simply may not allow for the resource required to carry out any meaningful research and testing.

However; even in these circumstances, you should at least be able to apply UX best practices. Whilst this isn’t ideal, as often what is great for one type of customer isn’t so great for another, it will still allow you to base your design decisions on some sort of research, even if that research wasn’t quite specific to your client. In my opinion, this is preferable to just pulling it out of thin air.

The Moral Of The Story

Ultimately, you should be able to justify your design decisions. If you have the time to be able to carry out research and testing specific to your client, then that’s great. If you don’t, at least you can back up your design with best practices.

About the author

Daniel Lee

I am a digital marketing strategist with more than eleven years' experience. I have worked in digital marketing agencies, as well as client-side. My clients include small businesses all the way up to organisations with revenue in the billions. I provide marketing consultancy both in the UK and the US. I hold a Master of Science degree in International Marketing, and I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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