A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
It wasn’t that long ago when those of us publishing on the Web felt compelled to inflate ourselves for the public. Did you have a website in the late 1990s during the dot-com boom? I did, and like so many others, I wrote copy for my websites in the royal “we” to give the impression that I had a corporation as big as iXL or Razorfish (kids, go ask your parents). Throw in stock photography of fictitious partners and meetings, and you’re on your way to transforming a one-man show operating out of a bedroom into a global corporation.
It was a facade I had created because I believed no one would take me seriously if I was honest. I wasn’t the only one duping my audience. At the time, most small businesses and freelancers were painting a picture of corporate grandeur when there was nothing but one or two individuals behind the curtain.
Things are different these days. We’ve opened up our lives to the world on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. We no longer maintain separate personas for our personal and professional lives. The line that once separated them is now blurred, and we now offer one authentic personality for the world to experience, for better or worse.
Because we’ve opened ourselves up to one another, we have come to expect the same of the brands we interact with. In a consumption-centric world where products are pushed on us and companies are always taking instead of giving, we crave real human interaction that is reciprocal and respectful.
A few companies have figured this out and are forging emotional connections with their customers by sharing their personality. We have now come to expect this of small startups, such as Carbonmade, a zany Web app that helps designers create a portfolio, and Photojojo, a playground for photographers. These companies are free of corporate constraints and brimming with youthful creativity. Their design and marketing are filled with wit that sets them apart from competitors. But personality is a powerful design tool that works even with gigantic conglomerates.
We are very happy to present a sample chapter from the upcomingprinted Smashing Book #3, written by Aarron Walter. In this chapter, Aarron explains how sharing our personalities can help us create lasting relationships with users, and how it can improve the bottom line of our business. The sample is also available for free download in PDF, EPUB and MobiPocket. —Editorial Team
Written by Aarron Walter, reviewed by Denise Jacobs.
Redesigning a website can be the seven-layer taco dip of hell. You’ve searched for inspiration on dozens of websites, captured screenshots, jotted down notes, consulted friends and colleagues, maybe even interviewed users. But despite your due diligence, your vision for the new website remains unclear.
I feel your pain, my friend. I have been there many times. A redesign brings with it the pressure to innovate, to reimagine, to make a better version of the website so that it lasts for years to come. It can be paralyzing.
The cover image from Aarron Walter’s chapter in the printed Smashing Book #3. Designed by Kate McLelland.
Whether the website is for a client or for yourself, if you’re struggling to find your way, it’s probably because you are starting from the wrong place. The inspiration you seek is not where you think it is. It’s not in a blog post entitled “25 Amazingly Beautiful Websites.” It’s not in your Twitter stream, nor on Facebook. It’s not even on the Web. It’s right there on your seat. It’s you.
Just for a moment, stop thinking about HTML semantics, CSS magic and jQuery tricks. Instead, ask yourself, “Who am I, and what do I want to say?” What do you stand for, what’s important to you, and who are you speaking to? Let’s make the answers to these questions the trailhead of your redesign journey.
We Web designers have many tantalizing tools at our fingertips, and because the Web is a large community centered on sharing, new ideas and fancy techniques enter our field of vision daily. But in this chapter, I would like to turn your gaze from those shiny objects and focus it on what we’re really trying to do with our medium. Our true aim is to communicate clearly and to create human connections.
We achieve that goal not by collecting bells and whistles for our next project, but by discovering who we are and what our message is. The interfaces we design are not walls upon which our users click and tap. They are windows through which we show the world who we really are. As we will see in the principles and examples to come, sharing our personality can help us create lasting relationships with the people who use our websites, and it can improve the bottom line of our business.
Personality will set your brand apart from competitors and help you connect with a passionate audience. Making personality central to the ethos of your redesign might sound scary, especially if you’re working with a big corporation accustomed to speaking like the Borg. But even the biggest corporations can communicate with a human voice.
Who Are “They”?
Big redesign projects often begin by researching users. We sit down with people to discuss their goals for our website and the expectations they have; we look at demographics, analytics and search logs. It is a lot of data to sift through, but it’s not idle footwork. From this research we can create portraits of our archetypal users. This dossier on individuals in our target audience is called a user persona. It answers an important question in the redesign process: who are “they,” the people we’re communicating with, and what do they expect of us?
Chances are, if you’ve spent even a little time working in Web design, you have probably heard of user personas. Maybe you’ve even created a few. We have been asking ourselves “Who are they?” since Alan Cooper introduced user personas to interaction design in 1995, and they have been a staple of user-centered design ever since. If personas are new territory for you, you will find a concise introduction to the topic in The Project Guide to UX Design by Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler. If you would like to dig deeper into user research, check out Alan Cooper’s industry-changing book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.
With personas in hand, we have a solid starting point for a redesign. But something is missing. Personas show us only half of what we need to see. Truly effective communication is bidirectional. We now know who “they” are, but who are we? If we share a bit of ourselves in our design, we cannot only gain the trust of our audience, but also inspire impassioned users.
Lasting relationships center on the unique qualities and perspectives we all possess. We call this amalgam of traits personality. Through our personality, we express the entire gamut of emotions. Personality is the mysterious force that attracts us to certain people and repels us from others. It is like a signpost for compatibility, stirring an emotional response that we cannot ignore.
We have all experienced the magic of meeting someone whose personality captivates us. A chance encounter brings us together, and the magnetism of our personalities keeps us together. Personality helps our brains perform a simple cost-benefit analysis when we meet someone.
Figure 8.1. A persona paints a portrait of an archetypal user in our target audience and informs our design decisions. This one was created by Todd Zaki Warfel of messagefirst.com
Though we may not always be conscious of it, we evaluate the world around us with a simple question, “Is this good or bad for me?” Personality provides us with all of the cues we need to determine whether a relationship with a new acquaintance is in our best interest or could be harmful. Because personality plays such an important role in our decision-making process in our social circles, it can be a powerful tool in design as well. Leer más “Redesigning With Personality”