Organizations that own websites and the people who direct or manage them often make the mistake of thinking that the website exists for them and should therefore make sense to them. This is a very selfish way of thinking. Instead, people should understand that websites exist for those who visit and use them. When websites are being designed, it is critical to identify those visitor segments who are most likely to use the website, put ourselves into their shoes, and design websites with them in mind. This is called user-centered design. Some may also call it human factors engineering.
Recently, we received a call from a client asking about “adaptive design” and the rumor that Google will start penalizing websites that are not mobile friendly. So, they wanted us to make their website adaptive. The insider language for this is actually called “responsive” but if my client calls it adaptive then that is the word I will use. I explained to my client that Google does actually have a test with an algorithm that analyzes your website and tells you whether or not is is mobile friendly.
It is also important to understand the difference between “technical responsive” and “functionally responsive”. We can tweak the website to pass Google’s mobile friendly test just for the sake of passing the test, but that could be like Volkswagen tweaking their diesel exhaust system to pass the emissions test. We want to ensure that the mobile experience not only passes Google’s test but also passes the mobile visitor’s test.
For example, if somebody were using a mobile device, particularly an iPhone, to visit our website … what would most likely be their purpose? In our particular case, most of our web visitors work at an office at a desk with a desktop computer. And, most of our web visits are Monday through Friday from about 9 am until 5 pm. So, the only time people visit our website from a mobile device is usually when they are on the road and trying to call us or find us. What they really need to see from their mobile experience is a quick link to our phone number, address, or map to our office.
So, it is definitely important that we please the stakeholders, i.e., ensure that the website passes Google’s mobile friendly test so we are not penalized from their search engines. But, more importantly, we need to think about the people visiting our site, understand their needs, and give them what they need. This is user centered design (UCD).