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Designing Websites for Every Audience by Ilise Benun

Jacket: Hardcover
Pages: 145 pages
Publisher: Haworth Press; (April 1998)
Genre: Web Technology
ISBN: 0789003724

Comments about the author: Ilise Benun is a writer, consultant, speaker, and author of two books: Self Promotion Online and Designing Websites for Every Audience. She is a specialist in the art of self promotion.
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Review: Trying to sift through the Web design books at your local bookstore can leave you overwhelmed. “Where do I begin?” you wonder. “HTML? Flash? JavaScript? Graphic design... hmmm... maybe I should focus on that...”

Or better yet, you should start by studying your customers before you code that first tag—before you aim for creating that multimedia masterpiece. That's the premise of Ilise Benun’s Designing Websites for Every Audience. This colorful, engaging book focuses on a singular mantra: Know your audience.

The book describes Benun as a “recognized expert on marketing for creative professionals,” and her insightful advice reflects a combination of business savvy and creative instincts. Where some marketing professionals might be overly concerned with pizzazz and punch, and where some designers might simply create in a vacuum, Benun suggests that truly usable sites are designed with “a little mind-twisting and some actual research.” The book’s purpose is to “give you the basics of usability from a visual design perspective.” And it delivers on that promise.

I often address usability issues in my daily work, and I have read a number of well-known books on the subject. So I’ll admit to having wondered what this book might have to say that others haven’t said. I found that, even though the book may sometimes reinforce ideas from other works (Nielsen and Krug come to mind), its people-driven approach and warm, engaging style made it a standout. As Benun points out, the Web is no longer new; people aren’t, as a rule, curious. Your site won’t be everything to everyone, so you must target your users and design for them. Chapter One expands on this philosophy of user-centered design by using personas, psychology, and the importance of an experiential interface that marries content with design. Simply trying to be efficient and navigable isn’t enough, says Benun.

Designing with the goal of creating a user experience means that you should really know your users. After delivering the healthy dose of good design advice in the first chapter, Designing Websites for Every Audience zeroes in on six types of users: Learners, Shoppers, Connection Seekers, Transactors, Business Browsers, and Fun Seekers. Each of the remaining six chapters is named for a user category and begins with a profile of a typical user belonging to that category. Rather than simply inventing personas, Benun uses real people profiles. For example, John Fix III is a typical Business Browser. A retail store owner, John often browses on behalf of his customers. Megan Lane, profiled as a Fun Seeker, goes online “just to see something cool [she’s] never seen before.” Users’ profiles describe their personality traits, online behaviors, Web usage history, favorite sites, usability pet peeves, search habits, and typical online goals.

After introducing a typical user, the remainder of each chapter is devoted to case studies involving Web sites that appeal to the featured user type. Each case study profiles a site using a then-and-now approach, explaining how site owners learned valuable lessons by listening to their users and giving their sites a “makeover” to maintain and expand their audience. Some sites were retrofitted, and others were redesigned from scratch. Featured sites range from BreastCancer.org and H&R Block to Bambino’s Curse (a Boston Red Sox blog) and Zoog Disney.

My biggest complaint about Designing Websites for Every Audience is that, ironically, it slights the over-50 user population. The oldest profiled user is 49, and most of the stylish-looking people in the cover photos are definitely under 30. Ironically, the oldest user pictured on the cover (a 44-year-old woman named Leslie, profiled in the book as a Shopper) is out of focus, so the photo doesn’t really reveal her age. I perceived the cover as contradictory to the message conveyed in the title: ...for Every Audience. I hope that in future editions, the author will give more coverage to design considerations for older users and for disabled users.

Even though I felt that the cover sent mixed signals, I found the design of the book’s inner pages inviting and consistent. Design balance is achieved using ample white space, thematic color, and repeating design patterns. For example, the color theme for Learners is red, and the color theme for Connection Seekers is green. On the first page of each chapter, color covers a larger page area and extends to the margin. This effect facilitates ease in thumbing through the book and finding the beginning of each chapter.

Web page reproductions offer views of sites before and after a makeover. Useful callouts and arrows direct the reader’s attention to specific design features. Occasionally, the reproductions are simply too small and have little visual value. For example, three out of four sample images of the Wall Street Journal pages were so small that I could barely distinguish the page elements, even though callout arrows directed my eyes toward them.

Benun uses sidebar discussions to provide a wealth of design topics and to encourage readers to dig deeper. Topics include the geographic distribution of Web users (“The Digital Divide. Who’s Online?”), tips on usability testing, the use of Cascading Style Sheets, and a section on “Usable Flash.” Designing Websites for Every Audience is a book that will appeal to a broad audience, including Web designers and developers, usability specialists, information designers, information architects, and marketing professionals.

So when you’re in the bookstore, wondering whether to buy a book on Photoshop Power Effects or Dreamweaver Magic, stop and repeat to yourself: “Know your audience, Know your audience.”

— Reviewed by:

Eddie VanArsdall Eddie VanArsdall

evanarsdall@comcast.net
An Information Design consultant, Eddie lives and works in the Washington, D.C. area. Besides being a techhead, he loves books, travel, nature, food, and wine.

 
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