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Design & Demographics: Matching Web Design to Your Target Audience

It’s easy to get carried away with web design. Designers can get swept up trying to impress their clients with fancy new techniques, while clients desire a grand website to show off their business. Together, if they’re not careful, they can get so caught up in colour schemes, fonts, images, visual elements, etc. that they forget the most important thing.

The target audience.

Because while the client may end up with a stunning, cutting-edge site, it’s of precious little use if it doesn’t appeal to those who are actually going to use it, and therefore fails to deliver any tangible benefits to the business.

It’s our job, as designers, to ensure our clients stay focused on the end users, and that we produce a site that will enhance its users’ experience and be a perfect fit for the intended audience. Because ultimately, web design is only really as good as its audience thinks it is.

Identify the Target Audience

Websites act as a kind of digital billboard for businesses. Which means their main job is to grab the attention of the passing traffic and make people sit up and take note. So if the design of the site doesn’t appeal, they’ll drive straight past without giving it a second thought. You’ll have lost them at ‘hello’.

If you have a clearly defined audience, then you have a great starting point for your site design. If not, you have some work to do…

Consider who the products and services are aimed at? Think about their geographic location, age, gender, level of education, profession, race, religion, and perhaps their socio-economic status.

Then dig deeper. What are their values, their lifestyle choices, interests and hobbies, behaviours? What kind of music do they listen to? Which products do they use? The more you understand who they are, the better you’ll be able to create something that will really speak to them.

Don’t forget, as well as designing for specific style preferences, you also need to think about device preferences and ensure your design is fully responsive.

Designing for Your Target Audience

Once you have a clear picture of who the website is aimed at, you can get to work designing elements for that audience – not the latest techniques you want to try out, nor the specialised photography your client loves!

There are several things to consider, including layout, colour scheme, typography, content and images. Plus you need to consider each aspect from a couple of different angles, namely what would appeal to the target audience, and what your client wants from their website from a business perspective – you’re aiming to remove all obstacles to ensure the users’ path to conversion is clear and uncomplicated.

1. Layout & Navigation

Websites must be user friendly and laid out according to a visual hierarchy, which helps users navigate through the pages and absorb information according to your clients’ preferences. You must take a human-centred approach, by focusing your design on how your users are likely to expect the site to work for them.

In terms of the layout, if you’re designing for kids or senior citizens, you want to keep it nice and simple, with lots of clear, white space and clean, simple navigation. Teenagers, young professionals and geeks will prefer a more complex layout to hold their attention and they could cope with a more sophisticated navigation system. Full-width layouts tend to appeal to a trendy, young crowd, while a traditional layout is the safe option if your audience is a little more conservative.

2. Colour Scheme

Colour is a powerful tool, with the ability to influence users’ moods and emotions, and sway their behaviour. We’re written about colour theory in more depth here, but essentially you should be thinking about the mood you want to portray on the website (for example, it’s highly unlikely you want a health website with black as the dominant colour – something generally used to portray sophistication or death!), and what would appeal to your target audience. For example, young kids are more likely to respond to primary or rainbow colours, but those same primary colours will look far too basic on a site aimed at a more sophisticated crowd.

3. Typography

The style and size of font you use will go a long way to expressing the personality of the brand. Kids love cartoon-style fonts such as Comic Sans (a no-no on a professional, sophisticated site) or a fun, scripted style, but you need to take a more conservative approach for a corporate client, opting for serif typefaces – those with little ‘feet’. If you want a more contemporary, streamlined feel, then look at the sans-serif typefaces.

Keep font size in mind too – a younger audience will have no problems with smaller fonts, but if your audience are senior citizens or people with visual impairments, you want a default size with a minimum of 12-points, with options to increase font size as necessary.

4. Content

In addition to affecting the layout, the audience has an effect on the type of content the site contains, and the style of writing. If you’re designing for young kids, minimal text is advisable, with lots of colourful images and animations to capture and hold their attention (more of this below). But those same illustrations won’t cut the mustard for older people who have come online to find a specific piece of information – they’ll simply be distracting.

If you’re producing a site for professionals, then industry specific terminology is appropriate, and often necessary, but too much jargon and you’ll scare others away. A friendly conversational tone is fine for a health or lifestyle website, but you should adopt a more sombre, professional tone for conservative and traditional sites.

5. Images

In terms of images, graphics, animations, etc., they are engaging and stimulating for young kids, but if your audience isn’t especially computer literate, or is likely to suffer from a slow internet connection, then it’s best to avoid large slow-loading graphics, animations and videos as people unlikely to hang around for the page to load.

Different content elements are a great technique to break up long sections and text, and encourage engagement with an audience, but ensure that each image is relevant to the story you’re telling, and that it has a specific purpose and isn’t just there for the sake of looking pretty.

Putting that all together, if you were designing a site for young children, you would keep the layout clear and simple, with lots of white space and clear, easy-to-use navigation. Fun, scripted or cartoon-style fonts would draw their attention, alongside bold, primary or rainbow colours. The content would consist of minimal text with a lot of illustrations and animation to capture their attention.

On the other hand, if you were designing a site for young professionals, a more complex layout and sophisticated navigation system would be preferable. You would generally have more text, in a contemporary sans-serif style and use more complex language. Images would be used to enhance the text, and they would be more realistic – you’d probably want to avoid cute illustrations or animations. Your colour scheme would depend on the mood of the site and the emotions you want to evoke, but you should steer clear of basic primary colours.

Be the Guiding Light

As the design process is underway, you may find your clients chiming in with various suggestions and recommendations for things they’d like to see incorporated in the site. Obviously listen to their ideas, but remember it’s your responsibility to be the guiding light in the design process. You need to keep the project on track and ensure the finished website will appeal to the target audience. Otherwise you’re letting your client down.

Having a stunning website is important, but remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A website is a marketing tool so regardless of how beautiful it is, if it doesn’t appeal to the right people or bring anything to the business, then it isn’t serving its purpose and is ultimately a bad investment.

How do you ensure your websites are suitable for the target audience? And can you think of any websites that are particularly suitable for the audiences they target. Tell us below…