User centered design is a philosophy for website design rather than an absolute process. Graphical design is not independent of the user and an abstract artistic process but one that facilitates a user's needs.
There are many ways of achieving the goal of a user centric site and we outline here our approach and tools we use.
To understand how users engage with your content we need to prototype and test. Recording of the testing is just as important as the testing itself and needs to be empirical i.e. beyond doubt. People are notorious witnesses even of their own behaviour so we need to record and analyse what they are doing. Two key methods are eye tracking and user behaviour heatmaps.
The example below is of an existing website screen at the start of a usability testing process we recently undertook.
The first phase in the user centred design exercise with the client was to identify how their target users engaged with their website. We set up a standard test with a varied audience and gave them all the same core tasks from the client. The results are combined above for one of the tasks and illustrates quite clearly how poor the site is at guiding users to the correct locations.
However, eye tracking works best when you can compare it to an alternative. Using our experience of what works well for users we created a slightly modified version which focuses the user's eyes in a core part of the screen.
By simply creating a more focused grouping of related tasks and giving a strong visual cue, we are able to increase the usability of the page. This gave us a great comparison for the existing design and an understanding of how the users wanted to have calls to action presented. We repeated the process twice more with different users to refine the process until we came up with an optimal design. One happy user exclaimed "finally, that's a site for us!"