Do users know what they want?

June 7, 2014

Having successfully launched our brand new responsive website we are now big advocates of this method of website design, unless fundamental issues stand in your way. Some of our clients are keen to advance down the alternative adaptive route, which recognises when a smartphone is being used and pushes an entirely separate, mobile specific site onto the screen. However, these sites often have a reduced level of content, based on what are believed to be the key user mobile goals – insights gained from market research. It is thought by some clients that their target audience have different goals on their mobiles than larger devices.

However, there are two key problems with this line of thinking:

  1. As Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” So even though very thorough market research may have been conducted, it may not have uncovered a user’s true goals. One public sector client of ours did exactly this and, based on the market research, developed an adaptive mobile site which we tested. However, testers could not find the same quantity and depth of information on the desktop site and, as a result, were unable to make crucial decisions. In usability research terms, we consider this a fail!
  2.  Increasingly, people are using their smartphones as one of their primary browsing devices. This might be hard for members of the older generation to understand, case in point being our Director, Peter, who can often be seen across the office squinting at his phone from arm’s length after misplacing his glasses. As a 24 year old, and a prime target member of the iPod generation, I and many of my peers, with our good eyesight, nimble fingers and peripatetic lifestyles, find ourselves doing more and more on our smartphones and tablets, to the extent that laptops/ desktops are only fired up when a word document needs to be written or a movie streamed. So for us, we want all the information you could find on your desktop at our fingertips, and any site that restricts content, restricts our browsing experience.

So how to avoid these two pitfalls?

  • Having already touted our support, it’s no surprise that we would recommend anyone to take the responsive approach, unless fundamental issues prevent it, ensuring everything on a desktop site can also be found when browsing on a tablet or smartphone. In a world where multi-device usage is commonplace, responsive designs also create a feeling of continuity running across various devices, giving users an easy and more familiar browsing experience.
  • Going down the adaptive route does have its advantages; often the sites load quicker and images and text can be better optimised for the screen resolution. Highly complex large sites are also often restricted to adaption, due to the insurmountable task of recoding an entire site to make it responsive. However, for those taking this route, we recommend developing and testing a straw man, i.e. test early stage wireframe and prototypes before moving on to develop more complex sites (See ‘User test early…’). This gives you the time and flexibility to uncover those hidden user-goals that market research may not reveal, and ensures your site contains all the information a user could want.

As Steve says, people often don’t know what they want. This is no different in the world of websites and, in order to avoid disappointment, we recommend going down the responsive route, unless fundamentally not possible, ensuring users have all the information they need on whatever device they choose to use.