Designing to Meet User Expectations

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No design will appeal to everyone. In recent weeks I’ve published two different galleries of web designs of unique website layouts and minimalistic websites and the sites featured in these galleries take different approaches to providing an attractive site for users. If you spend much time looking at which designs successfully present the image of a business to visitors, you will notice that websites in various industries frequently take a specific approach. Certain audiences will have expectations of what they want in a design, and if they don’t get it, the site will be out of place and most likely unsuccessful.

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Most rock bands have websites that feature a lot of photos and images, which often include a large background image. These sites are usually set on dark backgrounds, frequently black. The look of the page and the features are emphasized over load times. It’s basically a necessity now for a band’s website to have audio and video integrally involved in the site. Here are two examples that fit into this mold.

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus – The site uses a typical dark background with a large picture of the band. There are five songs that can be listened to simply by clicking a button on the homepage, and several videos are available further down the page.

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus screen shot

Finger Eleven – These Canadian rockers use a dark blue background that matches the colors of the artwork on their most recent album. Here there are four songs that can be heard from the homepage and a music video is embedded right in the page.

Finger Eleven screen shot


When visitors arrive at the site of a rock band they will expect to see a site that it is designed and functions in similar fashion to these two websites. Without the ability to listen to music and watch videos, visitors are likely to feel that the website isn’t complete. Likewise, a design that doesn’t feature a lot of images is unlikely to create the same response from visitors.

Another example of websites in an industry that consistently present similar designs and features to visitors is the industry of sports news. When visitors arrive at a sports news website they will be looking for the most recent headlines or scores, but they could be looking for any one of a few hundred things. As a result, most sports news sites have as much content on the page as possible, which hopefully puts visitors within a click or two of what they want to find. Images and video are also a necessity now as many visitors will want to see the highlights online rather than just reading about them. A site that doesn’t provide these features will not be able to compete with industry leaders.

ESPN.com – The ESPN homepage barely wastes a pixel so that visitors can find scores, highlights and headlines for whatever sport they want.

ESPN screen shot

FoxSports.com – With a very similar approach to ESPN’s, Fox Sports also places as much content as possible on the front page and includes video.

Fox Sports screen shot

At the other extreme end, many web and graphic designers use a minimalistic approach to display their portfolio. In this case, visitors will usually appreciate the designer’s ability to create an attractive website without relying on a lot of unnecessary elements. The portfolio then becomes the focus of the visitor’s attention, not a bunch of bells and whistles that are also included on the site. The recent gallery of minimalistic designs includes a number of example websites from designers that take this approach.

Web Standards Project – “The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards which ensure simple, affordable access to web technologies for all.” The average visitor of this website will expect to see a clean design that does not use excessive images or slow-loading elements, so it makes sense to use this type of design.

Web Standards Project screen shot

Putting the User First

What it really comes down to is putting the user first. Know what the average user wants and expects from your site and design accordingly. Don’t focus on creating a design that will wow visitors if that is not what they want. On the other hand, if users will expert certain features from your site, they should be included.

When you are building a new website, start with a specific idea of your target audience. Try to find their tendencies and preferences by observing other sites that they visit. Having an attractive website is not enough, it needs to also live up the expectations of visitors, whatever they may be.

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11 Responses

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  • Matthew Griffin, January 23, 2008

    I like your examples, Steven. They are good reminders that versatility is important in web design. Thanks for the article.

  • Vandelay Design, January 23, 2008

    Thanks Matthew. Versatility is definitely important. Unfortunately it doesn’t work to make a project fit into a box.

  • JamieO, January 23, 2008

    An important reason to ensure your portfolio has a good diversity of projects. If you display the majority of works in a particular style, potential clients from other walks of life will probably pass you by typecasting you into that genre of design.

  • Rob, January 24, 2008

    I often frequent sites such as ESPN and Fox Sport. Iagree that they don’t waste any space at all.

    In general I think it’s important to strike a balance between design and content.

    The ESPN homepage tries to cater to everyone, whereas regular visitors can create a custom page – in my own case I make this fairly minimal. Just the info I want to read. Customised theme’s seem to be the way forward for large cluttered news-type sites.

  • Hannah, January 24, 2008

    Good point, I think some designers forget that the user is such an important consideration. I like the examples you included, they illustrate your point well.

  • Erica DeWolf, January 26, 2008

    Great post! There are so many posts about their about sucking up to Google and other search engines, its great to see a post about how important the site design is for the end user.

  • Nebraska bowling alley, March 10, 2008

    i liked the redjumpsuit apparatus design. there’s some sophistication to it…even if its dark.. =)

  • Gitarist, July 25, 2008

    Thanks Matthew. Versatility is definitely important. Unfortunately it doesn’t work to make a project fit into a box.