Use research to understand your audience

“Knowing your audience” is associated with data. “Understanding your audience” is about learning about the people behind the numbers. Knowing is having specific information—like having 34,000 unique visitors a month, while understanding is more about discovering a user’s likes, dislikes, social and cultural situations, and who they are as a person.

Understanding your audience isn’t just important. It’s crucial. The success of your business and your website depends on your user’s happiness. If you understand your audience, you can make informed decisions when you design for a specific type of user. However, unless you conduct some sort of research, it’s hard to get an understanding of who your users are and what they want. Content strategist Relly Annett-Baker summed it up nicely, “I do not trust stakeholders to know their audience unless they have conducted some sort of research. They either talk about the audience they had when they were still largely in contact with them day-to-day, or the one they’d like.”

Just understanding your audience can help you make decisions in regard to imagery, typefaces, and colors. For example, certain cultures view colors differently. In one country the color yellow might be associated with hope or joy, but in another, it’s associated with cowardice and weakness. A simple understanding of our audience can help us with the basic fundamentals of design.

Establish a framework:

Select research methods that can offer the most detail. Once you gather that information, you need to determine the meaning from the data to find the individual stories within. It’s helpful to categorize the information you receive into basics, lifestyle, and media.

“Basics” would cover age, nationalities, location, gender, and numbers. “Lifestyle” data would contain information concerned with employment, socioeconomic status, religion, money, and education. The “media” category would provide insight into your user’s consumption of TV, radio, internet, technology, and printed media. How old are your users? What TV shows do they like to watch, what type of jobs do they have? All these questions can help you understand your audience and appropriately design for them.

Use the right tools:

Some of the best research methods available are focus groups, questionnaires, social media, and interviews. Services like SurveyMonkey can help you design specific surveys and questionnaires. There are pros and cons to each of these methods—so it’s helpful to use more than one resource to get the most information possible.

Once you have the information, you need to understand the meaning of it—that’s the hard part.

Don’t forget the client:

The research you gathered should help your client, too. Sure, the color and design of the website is important, but you also need to make sure your research framework is related to the goals of your client’s business. Help your client by finding out who the target audience is and what they want.

You can use your information as a selling point—understanding your audience and backing up the information you know with hard data is a great way to get the client to buy into your designs. It’s good to “know,” but overall, it’s better to “understand.” Understanding your audience is essential for the overall success of your website.

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