Website Design With Human Virtues
What is human-centered web design, and why does it matter? Often, in our efforts to sell our skills as web designers, we focus on technical prowess. Granted, technical skills are essential to the task of creating functional websites. However, when stripped of all of its technical jargon, what is web design? It is simply the craft of communication using a technical medium.
Online communication is a human-centered skill-set. Effective communication requires not only a solid understanding of your subject but just as importantly, an understanding of your audience. Who are you talking to, and why? I would argue that the best web designers are good communicators, who see the technology as only a tool, and effective communication as the goal. That is the essence of human-centered website design.
Wikipedia defines Human-Centered Design as: "…a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product, service or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process." When we think about how our design will affect the end user, it becomes more authentic and meaningful to its intended market.
Human-Centered Web Design Has Emotional Values
To create human-centered websites, one must think of the emotional content of the message to be conveyed, and how best to convey it. How something is said is as important as what is said. Here is where print designers have the edge. Print media has existed for centuries, allowing its best designers to refine its emotional communication potential. In web design, because of its newness, there is an infatuation with technology that often hinders or minimizes good communication. We tend to love the communication tools more than the message. A good example of that is the current infatuation consumers have with certain brands of smartphones and personal technology. Yet, simply owning cutting edge communication technology is not making us better communicators.
Poor communication (in spite of ever better communication tools) is a growing problem in our culture. Commenting on why job candidates can't communicate effectively. Bram Lowsky, an executive vice president of Right Management, the workforce management arm of Manpower, blames technology. "With Gen X and Gen Y, because everything is shorthand and text, the ability to communicate effectively is challenged," he said. "You see it in the business world, whether with existing employees or job candidates looking for work."
We see this in much of what modern web designers create as well. There is often an emphasis on 'showing off' what the technology can do rather than communicating effectively. Because of the abbreviated shorthand commonly employed in email and texting, the ability to communicate nuanced emotions is becoming a lost art. Human-centered website design is emotional. It speaks from the heart, in a way that brings the human touch to web design.
As a web designer for nearly two decades, an abiding principle of my work has been preserving emotional values in good online communication. Web design can convey virtues such as warmth, hospitality, and kindness. It can touch the emotions of the viewer. When that goal is accomplished, the website becomes more memorable and meaningful. In business-to-consumer web design, that is a competitive advantage. Therein lies one of the prime benefits of human-centered website design.