As psychology teaches us, humans are fundamentally social creatures. Even the most seemingly isolated individual act is a social one. Signing up to a website might seem to involve nobody other than the person sitting at their computer, but what they are actually entering into is a complex social relationship made up of many different parties – the web designers, the business owners, and the service and product itself. The most successful websites are those that clarify and exaggerate this interaction, a lesson we’ve all learned from sites like Facebook.
“What social psychology has given to an understanding of human nature is the discovery that forces larger than ourselves determine our mental life and our actions – chief among these forces [is] the power of the social situation”
An aesthetically brilliant design can go a long way toward making a site effective. However, it will get you nowhere if you don’t inject a human element into your web design work.
“Though user research can appear an expensive exercise, not involving users during a design process can prove more costly. The British Design Council says ‘many of the best designed products and services result from understanding the needs of the people who will use them.”
You need to keep your users in mind at every stage of the web design process. People will quickly become alienated with your products and your business if a design is cold and lacks a human element. This is because all too often, social relationships can often be obscured by both the physical and digital barriers between users. I’m sure you’ve all heard others moan about wanting to speak to a ‘real person’ when contacting a company. For a web design to work, people need to know that there is another person behind the webpage.
This means you should engage with your users wherever possible. Let them know that the site is there to help them communicate and understand the business. On my site, I’ve included lots of testimonials from satisfied clients, as well as showcases of some of my products. This is to let them know that this is a business operating in the real world rather than just an impersonal online service. Injecting a personal element, particularly if you’re designing a site for a small business, can go a long way too. I try to make sure that everyone will know who they will be dealing with if they choose my services – giving ‘calls to action’ a name and a face really helps with this. Incorporating a blog into a site design also helps build a rapport and dialogue between the site owners and site users.
(Screen cap from ‘Our Clients‘ section)
Reminding users to communicate with you or your client is vital in making users feel comfortable and familiar with the services offered.
Finally, implementing social media aspects into a design can really help to drive up your site’s traffic whilst further strengthening this concept. You can really make a site feel much more social and welcoming if you try to build synergy between it and the social networks people use in everyday life. I always put links to a sharing feature on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn using custom-made icons designed by the company, which again links the idea of social interaction back to my products!