While your platform may be intended for a core set of personas, it’s only inevitable that it will be used by those in the periphery. Therefore, your platform must be able to accommodate a variety of user types. However, this is easier said than done.
Below are what we here at Codal, a UX design company in Chicago, deem the best practices for designing platforms for various types of users.
There’s no better way to design platforms for many types of people than with a people-focused approach. Like the theory of design thinking.
According to the Interactive Design Foundation, “design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process which seeks to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.”
Design thinking has five steps, though they’re not always sequential: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.
- Empathize: in the context of design, to empathize with users means creating designs based off users realities (e.g. reason for using a platform) and difficulties (e.g. a physical impairment). To empathize with users, one must first identify who they’re empathizing with, especially when designing for a variety of users. Use this step to research and identify potential problems your users may face and design in accordance with your discoveries.
- Define: gather and organize your findings from the previous stage. Analyze and draw conclusions in order to define problems.
- Ideate: after defining a problem, it’s time to solve it creatively. Challenge your findings and assumptions in order to solve a variety of problems amongst a handful of different potential users.
- Prototype: it’s time to experiment with solutions and prototypes as discovered in the previous three stages. Decide the best way to try these possible solutions.
- Test: don’t just think about these possible solutions, try them out!
All in all, design thinking simply fosters socially innovative, and therefore people centered, designs. As a result, platforms are created in a way that makes them accessible to a wide variety of users.
PERSONAS: A MUST WHEN CRAFTING YOUR PLATFORM
After you’ve conducted user research, use it to create personas, or representations of your research that summarize and communicate your findings. While a persona may be depicted as a specific person, they’re actually a representation of many people in the real world.
Personas humanize user types for designers. More specifically, they provide an array of personal information about users that is relevant to user experience, and therefore platform design. Personas illustrate information about users age, location, objectives, interests, values, behaviors, and more.
One persona alone will not provide enough information to design a platform for multiple user types. Instead, create a more than one persona; one for each user type.
How exactly are personas created?
Start by collecting data in the form of in-depth user research within your target user group. The more, the better. (This research phase is akin to the empathize stage in design thinking!) Then observe the collected data and look for patterns. Based on your findings, create archetypal models to represent personas.
Once your personas are created, give them some context: apply them to different scenarios. These situations are imagined and ought to be created from the persona’s perspective. Scenarios will help designers understand user flows, which is critical when designing for a variety of user types.
Going through the persona process equips designers with a handful of user profiles to guide their designs. And while designers create multiple personas in aim of creating a platform that satisfies the bulk of user types, they will ultimately focus on personas that mimic core users.
GO WITH THE FLOW: DESIGN FOR USER FLOWS
Designing meaningful and well functioning platforms only happens when designers put the users needs and wants at the forefront of their design process. A guaranteed way to achieve this is via user flows.
User flows are the steps a user takes in order to achieve an objective. They communicate the intended task flow a user would go through to achieve a goal.
When creating user flows, you must abide by the following three principles:
- Name and purpose: user flows must demonstrate their purpose. Whatever the user’s goal is dictates the name of the flow. For example, if the user’s objective is updating their profile picture the name of the of the user flow would be “Update profile picture.”
- User flows only go one way: user flows go in one direction. Not two. Not six. Just one. The singular movement of user flows limit decision points for users.
- User flows only demonstrate completed tasks: the scope of a user flow should be a singular completed task as to ensure organization and productivity.
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ALL! BUT HOW? COMPLIANCE!
Designing platforms for a variety of user types includes designing platforms for those with disabilities. Designers have a responsibility both ethically and legally to craft platforms that are accessible to those with disabilities and comply with the legal standards that support said persons.
Accessibility caters to all types of users without jeopardizing the quality of the experience. And as such, designers have a responsibility to create accessible platforms for everyone.
Whether you’re the creator or you’re working with a web development company, make sure they design and develop in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These rules ensure that experiences meet ADA requirements. Example of these guidelines in practice include:
- Consistent navigation: for users with certain disabilities, like visual impairment or cognitive limitations, having a predictable site or application makes it usability easier for the user if repeated components (such as an expanding navigation menu or a search field) occur in the same order.
- Advanced notice for opening links: it should be no surprise to users when a new window opens. Without significant notice, users may become disoriented, especially those who require screen readers or those with cognitive disabilities.
- Logical tab order: make sure your platform utilizes a logical tab navigation order for users who rely on the tab key due to mobility and/or visual impairments.
Account for accessibility during the research/discovery phase. When conducting user research incorporate inclusive design and accessibility issues. Use the findings as preventative metrics early on in your platform development. Additionally, consider accessibility when developing personas. Create a handful of personas who have disabilities or limitations. Account for these insights when you’re designing your platform.
CAN YOUR PLATFORM REALLY SATISFY EVERYONE?
While you can design for a variety of users, you can’t make everyone happy. That being said, the best thing to do when designing your next platform is to build a product that based off the bulk of information gathered about user types through research and discovery.
A sentiment echoed throughout the entirety of this piece has been the need for user research and discovery. In order to execute any of the above best practices, designers must have all the facts.
If you’re concerned about conducting user research internally, consider investing in user experience research services. The more information you have to work with, the more user-centric your platform becomes.
Maybe your platform is already built under the assumption you’re providing a flawless user experience for the greater majority of users. Better to play it safe than sorry: consider hiring a UX design agency to conduct a UX audit. An audit can tell you which users are having their needs met and which ones are not in relation to your platform, as well as offer solutions as to how to fix the problem.