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How Have Expectations Changed in Web Design?

Published on March 9, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Expectation is a fickle thing, and it can be hard to track, but one thing it seems safe to say is that the expectations of web users have grown in recent years. As technology has moved on and more and more web users have access to broadband and a range of internet-enabled devices, people increasingly expect more out of the web. This leads us to the question: what impact, if any, has this had on web design?

Arguably, one of the main impacts for web design is that websites are now required to do more than ever before. A single website could be expected to provide information, offer services or products for purchase, be interactive, and generally add value to a user’s online experience. We also need to consider the way web users expect websites to behave.

Take ecommerce web design as an example. If there is a ‘buy now’ button on an ecommerce website, a person who clicks that button might then expect to be taken straight to the page that allows them to buy the product in question. If, instead, that ‘buy now’ button simply updates the user’s online shopping basket, it has the potential to lead to confusion or frustration that the online experience has not worked as they thought it would. This might seem like a minor issue, but when there is such fierce competition on the web, even the slightest inconvenience has an effect on the success of a website.

This helps to illustrate how the expectations of the web user are bound up with the discipline of web design: web designers need to take account of the changing behaviour of users in order to keep up with their desires. We can also see this in the expectation of users in terms of website speed. We all remember a time, not very long ago (when we all had dial-up rather than broadband), when it wasn’t uncommon for us to wait long minutes for a single webpage to load.

Now, web users expect their websites to load instantly, meaning that web developers have to focus on speed more than ever before. After all, if a user doesn’t get what they are looking for, it is only too easy for them to hit that back button and get their information somewhere else. This is related to the issue of search: 92% of web searches in the UK are now done through Google, and web users are highly likely to find your website thanks to the results of an online search.

This means that content now has to be search friendly. It needs to be optimised for keywords, easy to read and find. It also needs to display well in a whole range of browsers; where web designers could once focus their attentions mainly on Internet Explorer as the dominant browser, the increasing diversity of the market is adding more challenges thanks to the growing expectation of choice.

The issues of speed and versatility can also be seen in the world of mobile web design. One study of mobile web users found that between 2009 and 2011, expectations of the mobile internet have changed significantly. In 2009, 58% of people expected a website to load as quickly on their mobile as it did on their desktop. By 2011, that figure had risen to 71% of people questioned.

Also, in 2009, only 20% of mobile web users would leave the page if it hadn’t loaded within 5 seconds. In 2011, 74% of users would leave in the same situation. This shows just how quickly expectations can change, and just how quickly web design can come under pressure to adapt to a changing environment. We shouldn’t forget that it’s really only been in the past couple of years that smartphones have really come into their own, so this goes some way to explaining just why mobile web expectations have altered so dramatically.

One bit of good news is that the survey mentioned above found that mobile web users were slightly less likely to experience problems using the internet on their phone in 2011 than they were two years previously, which suggests that web design is adapting – and recent developments such as responsive web design will hopefully help to bridge the remaining gap between expectation and current performance.

Overall, there is no doubt that the expectation of web users is growing – but so are the capabilities of web designers. Keeping up with user demand will always be a challenge, but with improving technology and a growing range of tools with which to do the job, this should be a challenge that we are fully equipped to meet.

By Chelsey Evans

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