You know I am a big fan of designing with data. In fact, I practically come out in a rash without it.
But recently I was reminded how dangerous it can be to design with only data in mind.
There’s an absolute stack of metrics you can get from your content. How long people are on the page, which links they use, how long they spend on each section of the page, where they put their mouse etc.
You can also make assumptions about your audience. For example, if you are writing about palliative cancer care you are probably safe to assume most of your readers are going to be feeling emotion.
The dangerous bit
Looking at all the data
If someone is on a page with 500 words and they take 2.5 mins and use the link at the end then that’s good right? They are using their scanning behaviour and using the primary action. Lovely.
What if they take 8 minutes on that page and use the link at the end? Is that good or bad? What if they don’t use the link – does that mean the call to action isn’t working?
It could mean a mountain of things. For a start – your audience: is English a second language? Does your primary target audience have reading problems? Does your audience need help to find/read/understand your information (eg assisted digital)? There are so many reasons. You can’t take any one piece of data and make accurate assumptions.
Your user need was:
- As a partner to someone with terminal cancer
- I want to find out what will happen
- So that I can prepare my caring duties
I’ve heard people say the audience will skip more words because of the emotional stress they are under. I’ve seen people under extreme emotional stress read every single word on a page because they are desperate not to miss anything. I’ve read a bunch of studies that support both sides of the argument.
The fact is a lot of these things don’t actually matter. When you are writing – for whatever subject – remember the basics. There’s a brilliant blog post about how people read on A list Apart by Jason Santa Maria.