How to build websites for users with different needs

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How to make design decisions for different users

What happens when you need to design an application or a website for a set of users, but each of those users want very different things? Samuel Fry describes how he responded to that challenge.

A while ago, I was working on a project that involved designing different experiences for different users. The tool that we were creating intended to help users conduct daily tasks in their workplace.

We had 2 types of users: team members and their managers. Both of which conducted very different daily tasks. Essentially, the team had daily activities with different clients and their managers analysed how effective those team members were being. The problem that we faced was that the team members were naturally quite sceptical of how they are measured by the managers – and why.

Challenge of working with different users

The tool that we were creating was not meant to change the way that either group of users work. We were just trying to make their work more efficient and effective. However, by conducting user testing with both sets of users (and openly sharing those insights), we were naturally revealing how each of them conduct their daily activities. For the team members, this meant that they were naturally curious and concerned about what their managers were analysing.

We had a great manager who said to her team, during one of our user testing sessions, that:

“You are seeing some diagrams here which shows you how my mind works. Behind the scenes I have always been using the information that you and the rest of the team give me to understand what is happening on a broader level. This is not new and it should not affect your job or the way we are managing your performance. It is simply being automated now, rather than me producing these diagrams myself. Nothing is new.”

But the team members were still unsure.

Convincing users that new tools will help them – not hinder them

This got me thinking about different users’ view of internal systems where they report information. The aim is to help them in their job, not to create more reporting but sometimes that is the view of it.

So, how do you combat this? Perhaps you keep them completely separate when it comes to sharing insights from user testing. But – what happened when the sponsor of the project is one of those sets of users who want to see the other side?

Customising applications for different users

The manager went on to say, “For your dashboard I do not want you to have any information that won’t help you in your job. This tool should not make your life harder, or mean that you have to report more. Your dashboard should make your life easier and my dashboard should help me.”

This was a great manager for us to be working with as they understood the benefit of customising the application for different users. However, we still faced the challenge of ensuring that both sets of users believed that creating this solution was a great idea in the first place.

My instinct is always to be open about why design choices are made. However, perhaps this suggests that there are times that it makes strategic sense to keep different users apart. That way you ensure that they are not concerned about the needs of other users and they do not ask for features that would never help them in their jobs.

I would love to hear how others approach this challenge. So, please contact me if you have approached it differently.



Samuel Fry

Director, Create Hub

Customer Centric Design

Samuel is the Director of Create Hub. Samuel has a history of working with creative, innovative and entrepreneurial companies such as the creative-business incubator Cockpit Arts, in the Creative Economy team at Nesta, with entrepreneur network Virgin Media Pioneers and as the Enterprise Consultant at University of Bristol. All opinions are his and not those of his employers.

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