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:: Wednesday, June 01, 2005 ::

While working in web design for Unisys many years back, I was assigned to three global Intranets, two of which were career oriented. Unisys had a strong belief in keeping employees educated, furthering their knowledge in their fields, and moving them forward with skilled, guided direction. I was most proud and in awe of their global online University.

One day I overheard a conversation that left quite an impression on me. Building any website for an International market or readership is hard enough, but worse when you've never been to the country or countries you're targeting. And so it was, on that day, an employee from Australia, who appeared to be somebody important, was visiting Unisys Headquarters in the USA, where I worked. I overheard him blasting my managers, in mock anger but still making his point, that we Americans had no freaking idea what Australians wanted or liked in web sites and it clearly showed by what we were building.

He went on to say that it was laughable that we were so naive to think putting the date in the European format and writing some words differently (ie. "centre" instead of "center") was satisfactory. Baloney! He really thought we Americans had a lot of nerve to make assumptions and build any website for global use without knowing more about who our end users were.

That was in the late 1990's. The same assumptions are still being made and there are many web sites built by people who have no clue about the folks they're building it for. Cases in point:

Usability for women for age group 40-60, where a male from India is wondering what American women like and want in web sites. (I had some fun answering that one!)

Responding to a new site for Children. Someone is building a website for children and wonders if children have any expectations for web sites.

Childrens color schemes wants to know what they are. (The question is being directed to adults.)

Another thing that I see in web site design is a narrow focus on who the target market is, and a total disregard for potential different customers or browsers.

University sites, for example, can be stiff, dry, factual, and downright boring. Their priority appears to be delivering the facts about courses, fees and their qualifications. Parents seeking these particulars may be thankful to find the information quickly, but I feel sorry for potential students who want to know what dorm rooms look like, if they can drink beer, how close the Student Union building is to classes and what classrooms and lecture halls look like. Where are the pictures of students? I'm always surprised at how often the emphasis is on the outside of buildings and not what's happening on the inside.

The other goof is to design a site targeting young people, but forgetting its their parents who have the credit card. I once reviewed a site that was targeted to the tough young crowd who like a little violence and raw language thrown into the site while shopping for clothing. The site was mostly black, white and red with logos and brands related to hatred, war and fighting. I'd love to know how many of those kids have the nerve to say, "Hey mom. I want to the low cut jeans on this page. Ignore the skulls and by the way, the music on the site? I never listen to the words. Really mom."

I don't care how cool a brand of clothes are, if I think my money goes towards promoting the message of violence and degrading people, I'm not going to make the purchase for my kids.

Ever since that day when I heard the Australian scoffing at us Americans for being such web design ding bats, I've had a few chuckles at what I've seen people try to do, like the guy who built a medical help site pretending to be from the USA, but not only was he not, he could barely speak the language.



Learn more: User Centered design for target user. Don't just guess. Google it.

See also: If Your Home Page Could Only Talk

Related to this topic (click to enlarge):
(Hat tip "Whitemark")

:: posted by Kim Krause Berg on 6/01/2005 11:05:00 AM

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