Understanding “Purpose”

26 Apr

At the top of the UXD stack is purpose: “Why are we doing this project.” It’s critical to understand as much as possible about why the project stakeholders want to invest time, money, and energy into the endeavor.

I remember reading a quote about ten years ago by Elizabeth Boling that stuck with me:

“Designer” does not mean “artist” – though lots of people want to think it does. The job of a designer is not self-expression, it’s problem-solving.

The better we understand the problem, the better our chances will be at solving it. This sounds obvious, but its very easy to get caught up in what we can do without thinking about what really needs to be done.

the old Hay Net home page - have hay, need hayA great example of understanding purpose that I remember from the same era as Boling’s quote above was in Jeff Veen’s talk from the Adaptive Path UX Week in DC. He shared this example from the USDoA Farm Service Agency: Hay Net.

The purpose for this site couldn’t be more clear, could it? It’s a clearing house for people to exchange hay. You either have hay, or need hay, and the prominent links help you initiative such an exchange.

Things to consider for a site or application’s “purpose”

Here are a few items to jog your thoughts when considering purpose for a business site:

What product or service does the company offer?

Make sure you understand fully the features and benefits of what the company provides to the market.

How do they compete with this product or service?

Are they the cheapest? Are they the highest quality? Are they the innovator offering something that nobody else has? Understanding how they compete will help you craft the visual and writing style to support their desired market position.

Will the actual transaction occur online?

Many product companies sell their items online through an ecommerce site. But not all transactions are suited for the web. Typically, the larger the purchase price the less likely the transaction will occur online. If there isn’t a shopping basket involved, what is the next logical step you’d like the audience to take to move them towards an eventual sale? Seth Godin coined the term permission marketing to describe the series of smaller (and mostly non-financial) transactions that occur in the process of making a larger commitment sale. If you’re working on a project for a services firm or another company that has an involved sales cycle, I highly recommend taking Seth up on his offer to get the first several chapters of his book for free.

Understanding purpose will help drive successful design decisions throughout the project.

The more you understand about the nature of your client’s business, the better suited you’ll be for success. Keeping the client purpose in mind will help avoid resembling the quote we’re all warned by in Jurassic Park: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”


Posted by on April 26, 2010 in business, uxd stack


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