User Interface Design notes for a Full-service Printing Web Site
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The purpose of this report is to explore the profile of users expected to visit a print services website offering a full range of graphic design products and services. The report will explore the expected profile of the users meeting this profile, and explain the motivations and goals that should be followed in designing the web-site from a design standpoint.
A wide variety of users can be expected to be attracted to our web-site. They may be small business owners looking for advertisement materials. Perhaps they are individuals wanting a unique card, poster, or other creative product for their own use. The user may also be an individual or corporate entity interested in professional quality business cards. Each user will have their own goals and approach to looking for the information they want. Additionally, users may come from a variety of cultures, languages, and geographic locales since the web makes our site equally accessible around the globe.
Presumably, our user is in need of some form of graphic design product (that’s why they came to our site right?). Beyond this simple need there are a number of things that users need. First they will need to locate the products and or services they want quickly. Secondly, once they have located the product, they will be interested in price and quantity available. Third, the users will need to be able to place an order for the desired product or service. Finally, some method of direct communication (email, phone, fax, or mail) is necessary so that users unable to find what they need or want can let us know and still become customers by allowing us to have the opportunity to offer customer service to them.
Some expectations that users may have include: the ability to see samples of the product offering, portfolio samples of the artists performing graphic design services. Some other expectations might be that the prices quoted and displayed are in the currency they are familiar with and that the web site would provide for an interface in their native language. They may also expect to be able to order and pay for the products or services online via credit card or on-line services such as ClickBank or PayPal.
Because there is so much variety in the potential spectrum of users of a printing service web site there is no generic model that will fit all users. Providing support for as broad a spectrum of users as possible will help maximise the utility of the web-site and (hopefully) improve the sales and marketability of the printing company behind the web site. Beyond this goal we want to make the use of the web site simple to use and productive so that users that become customers will be repeat customers. Our goal should be to provide an interface that users can come to rely upon.
Understanding the user or customer and their goals or perceived tasks is the most important consideration in designing the web site. Without a good understanding of the customer we risk providing an interface that may be detrimental to the utility of the site and possibly become a negative factor in the customer’s perception of the company and potentially have a negative affect upon the revenue that can be generated by the web site or even the company in general.
We do not however, have the entire story about the users fitting the described profile. There are no any user-dedicated forums or websites devoted to the use of print services web sites. To obtain more information about the users beyond our initial assumptions it is necessary to perform some marketing research. Utilizing user surveys, and reaching out to freelance artists and corporate public affairs or marketing departments can provide more enlightening information about the expectations and needs and expectations possessed by potential users.
There are several printing services website already existing on the web. I examined Kinko’s at http://www.fedex.com/us/officeprint/main/, A&E at http://www.aeproducts.com/, and Vista Print at http://www.vistaprint.com. Each site has very different approaches to accommodating its users and appears to target somewhat different segments of the spectrum of possible users.
Kinko’s, a neighbourhood print and copy shop, seems for focused on its parent company’s business (FEDEX) of shipping. The online options for print services are understated and do not seem to attract attention. Nor are the services offered at first glance very broad. Indeed, first impression seems to be that the only service offered is the ability to remotely print to any Kinko’s storefront desired. This is an innovative service but is not likely to be the reason a user came to the web-site in the first place. Patient exploration of the site interface reveals that there are a range of printing services provided such as sign printing, brochures, contact and business cards and more; none of the offered services are immediately available online, instead the site acts as a brochure for the brick and mortar store. Additionally there does not appear to be any accommodation available for non-English speaking visitors to the Kinko’s site though the parent company does make such accommodation in language.
A&E Products, a Houston-based company, appears to focus more on the small to large business customer. They offer full printing and graphic design services as well as some other innovative business communication management services such as direct marketing and contract/bid proposal management. They offer on-line service including a method for file transmittal and will offer around-the-clock service for customers needing emergency service and provide pickup and delivery within Houston and work with all the major delivery services as well. The web-site is information oriented to the new visitor/non-registered user and provides an in depth overview of the company’s services, capabilities, history, and methods of contact. Like the Kinko’s site, however, no attempt has been made to accommodate non-English users despite the large Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese business environment in its local area of business.
VistaPrint is a world-wide company with offices in Canada, the United States, Bermuda, the Netherlands, and Jamaica. The culture of the company is notably accommodating of others with the ability to select an interface based on the user’s location. The site is accessible in a number of languages, but the assumption of particular languages being employed by location is somewhat problematic; what of the Spanish speaking US citizen, or the erstwhile Québécois who speaks French? Also the Asian language formats are notable in adopting horizontal orientation rather than the traditional vertical columns. VistaPrint does a good job of presenting the available services to potential customers across the entire spectrum we have considered but the interface is a bit cluttered and could be better organised to help users find the product or services they want more quickly.
Pending further research into the needs and expectations of the expected spectrum of users for our full service print services web site, VistaPrint seems to be the best model to use as a template or basis of comparison during the design of our own site. They offer similar if not identical products and services and are addressing a materially similar audience to the one we wish to target. Further investigation should concentrate upon determining what the foibles of their approach are and using user-based research through survey and ethnographic investigation to determine how to address those problems in our own site.
FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print Services. 30 Jun 2005. <http://www.fedex.com/us/officeprint/main/>
Printing Houston: A&E – The Graphics Complex. 2004. 30 Jun 2005. <http://www.aeproducts.com/>
VistaPrint – Business Cards – Full Color Printing – Digital Printing Company | VistaPrint. 2005. 30 Jun 2005. <http://www.vistaprint.com>