Web designers need to have an invisible hand

Over the years, I have come to realise that there are many surprising links between web design (my line of work) and economics (what I studied at university).

One link is that user-centred design is like a trade. When designing a webpage from a user’s point of view, often it is best to forgo what you want to say in favour of what the user wants to know. You’ve got to give the user what they want if you want something in return.

According to Gerry McGovern, visitors to the Norwegian Cancer Society website wanted information on treatment, symptoms and prevention. The Norwegian Cancer Society wanted to get more donations and publicity. Their original website gave large amounts of space on their homepage to donation buttons.

Adopting a user-centred approach, they redesigned their homepage to give more space to what the users were looking for, and reduce the prominence of the pleas for donations.

The results were staggering:

  • 70% increase in one-time donations
  • 88% increase in monthly donors registered
  • 164% increase in members registered

Similar to an economic trade, you need to give in order to receive.

If a business wants to meet certain goals on their website that don’t align to the user’s needs, subtlety is the best way to do it. You need to apply your own invisible hand. Then both parties will be better off.

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