How to Avoid Design Pitfalls Through User Research

More is better in terms of web traffic, right? Well, it depends.

Marketers frequently analyze metrics such as pageviews, pages per session, average session duration, and bounce rate to assess how well a website is performing. These metrics, however, do not necessarily provide the full context behind the users interaction.

For example, increases in time spent on specific pages may actually be symptomatic of severe content issues. Consumers may be spending more time in a single location not because they find the content engaging, but because they cannot understand it.

Both quantitative and qualitative research are necessary when analyzing website data. They are not at odds, but should be used in tandem with each other. Indeed, early quantitative content testing, like findability tests and word-association activities, can do a lot to inform your website’s IA, navigation, and taxonomy, but once a user is on the page, more detailed care must be put into the content. This is where qualitative content testing comes in.

Here are some ways to avoid these false impressions and produce the best possible content:

1. Know Your Audience

The first step to crafting your message is to identify and understand your audience. Know exactly who you want engaging with your content:Know your Customer

  • What are their needs, their tastes, and their expectations?
  • What are their interests in the topic?
  • How do they feel about the brand or that of competitors?
  • What five words would describe the ideal website in this space?

You can learn a lot from asking just a few actual users – whether customers, patients, or anyone looking for more information about your topic – questions like these, and probing a little further to get at why they hold their opinions. Real feedback from real people can help define a successful tone and style for content that will be produced or rewritten.

2. Test Your Messages Early On


Once you understand the readers, viewers, or customers you wish to reach, you can begin creating content for them. Start with your most important requirements and what you expect to be the most frequently used content.

Test Your Messages Early OnBefore you get too far along with content development, test it out with a representative sample of your target audience. The great thing about content testing is that it is design-agnostic and can be done at any point that you have a message to communicate. Ideally you’ll be able to test content in the context of a paper prototype or wireframe, but you’ll gain valuable insights even if you are not that far along in the design process.

Whatever the medium, your content will either convey a coherent message or it won’t. Only actual, representative users can judge whether or not you’ve succeeded – all the better reason to test early and avoid publishing content that is doomed to fall flat.

3. Assign Realistic Tasks and Read Non-verbal Clues


While testing content, real users can provide the most helpful feedback when assigned tasks that directly relate to their interest in the content. For example, asking what type of image the company’s about page portrays to the user is more helpful and informative than asking where to find a page.

Judging content quality sometimes means the participant will browse through content you’re not testing, like a competitor’s site. Let them – it’s their job to evaluate your content, and a good testing facilitator can take the opportunity to understand the value that competitors offer compared to the test content.

Design researchers are also trained to read non-verbal clues that can reveal a participant’s true feelings about the content. After all, participants might be self-conscious about admitting that they did not understand certain content or know how to follow message prompts. More often than not, however, their frustration or confusion will be apparent in their body language and the tone of their voice. These observations are just as important as direct participant feedback when assessing whether content will engage a given audience.

Following these practices will help mitigate false impressions about your users, but it’s also important to know pitfalls in usability testing and how to avoid them. Our video goes into more detail on how to avoid these errors, because it’s not just a matter of what you think your users need but it’s about capturing what they actually need. That’s a big difference.


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