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Have you ever walked into a place and instantly felt like you belonged? That's the magic we're aiming for in web design.  


But it's easier said than done. How do you create a digital space that not only attracts visitors, but makes them feel right at home?  


This goes beyond the nuts and bolts of building a website and into the world user-centered Design (UCD) – a philosophy that puts real people at the heart of every pixel and line of code. 


Today, we’re taking a look at the importance of user-centered Design, including a couple of real-world examples that shed light on the power (and pitfalls) of this process, from Reddit's balancing act between tradition and innovation to Ravelry's eye-opening redesign journey. 


At REM Web Solutions Inc., we thrive on helping our customers grow their businesses in tangible and impactful ways. If you need support with your digital marketing efforts or website design and development, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our skilled team is always here to support you in navigating the digital landscape!    



What's User-Centered Design All About? 

At its heart, User-Centered Design is all about making a website that really works for the people using it. It's about asking, "What do they need? What makes things easier for them?" and then following through on that through thoughtful web design. 


Some of the key principles of user-centered web design include: 


  • Accessibility: We're talking about a website everyone can use, including those with disabilities. Here in Ontario, this includes complying with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act or AODA. Learn more about AODA-compliant web design

  • Ease of Use: Your site should be easy to use and navigate, with a layout that makes sense. Learn more about usability best practices

  • User Feedback: When users speak, we listen. Their feedback is gold when it comes to fine-tuning designs to meet their needs. It’s important to consider user feedback during the design process and have a means of collecting feedback post-launch. 

  • Practicality: A site needs to be more than just pretty! It has to be practical too. It’s a balancing act between cool looks and being user-friendly. 

  • Speed: Nobody likes waiting. Fast load times and smooth performance are must-haves. 

  • Responsive Design: Whether they’re on a phone, tablet, or desktop, your site should look great and work well. Learn more about responsive web design

  • Security and Privacy: Keeping user data safe and private is non-negotiable. 



The Business Case for User-Centered Design 

Your business’s website is often the first and most lasting impression you make. A user-friendly website is like a friendly, helpful salesperson – it makes a great impression.  


When your site is easy to navigate and accessible to all, it says a lot about your brand. It shows you care, and that builds trust and credibility in the market. 


No one likes to be frustrated or confused online. If your website is engaging and useful, visitors are less likely to hit the back button.  


Plus, they're more likely to convert, whether it's buying something, signing up for a newsletter, or just sticking around to learn more. A user-centered design can turn casual browsers into buyers. 


Think of user-centered design as a smart investment. Getting it right from the start means you spend less time and money fixing problems later. Plus, a great user experience is something people talk about. Happy users become your brand ambassadors, spreading the word for free. 


So, in a nutshell, user-centered website design isn’t just about a good-looking site. It's about creating an experience that resonates with your users, strengthening your brand, and ultimately contributing to your business’s success.  


It's an approach that pays off in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and yes, even in the numbers. 



The Power of Listening to Users (and the Pitfalls of Ignoring Them) 

To bring these principles to light, let’s look at the process and outcome of two major website redesigns – one that painstakingly followed user feeback, and one that flopped for failing to do the same. 



Reddit's 2018 Redesign - Balancing Tradition and Innovation 

Reddit, known for its distinct (if not dated) look, faced a real dilemma in 2018. It was at the time a platform beloved for its simplicity and "retro" charm, teeming with users who were loyal to its familiar, early-internet vibe. This was a community deeply attached to the Reddit they knew – a cascade of blue links and Verdana font, a real throwback to Web 2.0.  


Reddit’s redesign journey was not about throwing out the retro look entirely, but improving usability with a mind towards business growth while respecting its unique (and more than a tad contrarian) culture. Here’s how the principles of user-centered Design played a part: 


  • Listening to the Audience: When whispers of change stirred unease, Reddit took note. The initial resistance was a clear message: "Don't fix what isn't broken." This wasn’t just about a look, but also about identity and functionality. 

  • Testing and Feedback: Enter the alpha version, tested by a small group in early 2018. The subreddit r/redesign became a hub for this exchange, highlighting the UCD principle of incorporating user feedback. 

  • Options Over Overhauls: Recognizing the diverse preferences of its 330 million monthly users, Reddit offered not one but three design options. This is UCD at its best – accommodating different user needs without alienating any group. 

    • Card View: A modern, image-centric layout for those craving a visual experience. 

    • Classic View: A nod to the traditional Reddit, updated but familiar, respecting the nostalgia of long-time users. 

    • Compact View: For the power users and moderators, functionality took precedence over aesthetics, allowing rapid content navigation. 


The Outcome 

Surprisingly, the revamp did not trigger a user exodus or a massive outcry. Why? Because Reddit’s approach exemplified key UCD principles: 


  • Respect for User Preferences: By offering multiple viewing options, Reddit acknowledged and respected the diverse preferences of its user base. 

  • Balancing Form and Function: The redesign was not just a cosmetic upgrade but a thoughtful enhancement of user experience. 

  • Inclusive and Adaptive Design: Each view catered to different user needs, from casual browsers to hardcore moderators, ensuring no one felt left out. 


Reddit's redesign journey teaches us that change, even for a very picky user base, can be successful when it's user-centered. It's about evolving while keeping the essence intact, listening to users, and providing options that cater to a broad spectrum of preferences.  



Ravelry's 2020 Redesign - A Lesson in User Experience 

Ravelry, a cozy corner of the internet for fiber arts enthusiasts, suddenly changed its look on June 16, 2020. Users essentially woke up to a brand-new interface unannounced.  


What followed was a storm of reactions ‒ some loved it, but others... not so much. 


Soon after the redesign, a troubling trend emerged. More than a handful of users started reporting serious issues: eyestrain, migraines, even seizures. The community’s response was overwhelming, filling threads with thousands of comments ranging from praise to distress. 


The situation even caught the eye of experts. A medical sociologist suggested that the issue might be a case of mass suggestion. Digital accessibility specialist David Gibson didn't find Ravelry's site unusually bad in terms of accessibility. Yet, the Epilepsy Foundation of America highlighted that certain visual patterns can indeed trigger seizures, mentioning Ravelry as a potential risk. 


In response to the uproar, Ravelry eventually made a decision to reintroduce the old design while they went back to the drawing board. This move, while met with gratitude by many, also unearthed new bugs. And many users felt that the change had come too late, after days of having their concerns ignored or minimized. 


Silvia Maggi, a designer specializing in accessibility, wrote an excellent piece documenting the Ravelry situation that goes into greater depth than we do here. There, she highlights a critical oversight in the redesign process: the lack of early user testing and feedback, particularly from those with visual or migraine sensitivities. Her article is well worth reading if you are interested in learning more. 


The Outcome 

Ravelry's redesign journey offers key insights: 


  • Importance of Early User Involvement: Engaging users from the start can identify potential issues before they escalate. 

  • Inclusivity in Design: A design that doesn't account for all users, especially in a community known for its inclusivity, can lead to significant backlash. 

  • Flexibility and Responsiveness: Being able to adapt and respond to user feedback is crucial. Sometimes, stepping back is the best way to move forward. 

  • Understanding the Impact: A design isn't just about aesthetics, but more importantly about useability and accessibility. A great design can do both, but the latter must come first. 


user-centered design isn’t about creating something new and shiny ‒ it’s about ensuring a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable experience for all users. This case study underscores the need for comprehensive user testing and the importance of listening to and valuing community feedback. 



User-Centered Design: Creating Website People Love 

As we've journeyed through the principles of user-centered Design, the power of empathy, inclusivity, and responsiveness in web design shines through.  


Whether it's Reddit's respectful balance of tradition and innovation or Ravelry's lesson in user involvement, these stories highlight the importance of remembering the human behind every click and scroll. 


At REM Web Solutions Inc., we’re not just web designers ‒ we're storytellers, problem solvers, and your partners in this digital transformation. Our expertise lies in weaving your vision into a user-centered design that resonates with your audience, ensuring every interaction with your website is an experience to remember. 


So, if you're ready to take your online presence to a level where design meets purpose, and aesthetics blend with user comfort, let's talk. Reach out to us, and together, let's create a website that's not just seen but loved. 




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