Readers, Users, and Viewers

photo of John Michael Pierobon By: John Michael Pierobon

When I begin to design Web sites for my clients, I ask them to clearly define the audience and the purpose of their Web site. The purpose of a Web site should match the interest of the audience.

Let us separate audiences into three broad categories: readers, users, and viewers.

A reader is someone who surfs the Web to read articles such as this one. There are many of us who read the newspaper on line.

A user is someone who uses the Web as a tool. Students use the Web to do their homework. Others use the Web to plan a vacation, to look up stock market information, or perhaps to make a purchase on line.

A viewer is someone who wants to be entertained while surfing the Web. Interactive Web sites featuring games or short movies are designed for viewers.

The type of audience will determine how to design the Web site. Here are some general guidelines.

When designing for a reader, employ an easy-to-read font. Protect the reader's eyes by avoiding loud colors and having good color contrast between the text and the background.

Overwhelming the page with text makes a Web site intimidating. Unlike brochures and magazines, on the Web white space is cheap. Use it. Also use frequent paragraph breaks by breaking long paragraphs into shorter ones. If possible, break up articles with examples and illustrations.

When designing for a user, usability is key. The user wants to find the information quickly with a minimal number of clicks. A prominently displayed search engine form is essential.

Forms must quickly return meaningful results. Broken links and incomplete information can easily frustrate a user. Patience on the World Wide Web is in very short supply.

Some users are text oriented while other are "logo centric", so it is best to always accompany text links with little icons. Links must be clear and intuitive.

Once users have found the information they are seeking, they become readers. So the Web site design criteria has to accommodate both the user and the reader.

Designing for the viewer is a different story. For the viewer, the journey is much more important than the destination. The Web site has to dazzle and sizzle. To make a great first impression, a visually inspiring splash page may be warranted.

Dynamic graphics, cool audio, and beautiful images are important to viewers. Use of Java, JavaScript, helpers and plug-ins should be strongly considered.

Decorative pages with beautiful, custom fonts and bright colors, featuring artistic icons and elegant images are great for viewers. However, they contradict the design rules for readers. They also tend to load slowly, thus testing the patience of users.

Hmmm, whom should I design for?

If the purpose of the Web site is to educate and inform, the audience will be readers. If the purpose of the Web site is to provide a service, the audience will be users. If the purpose of the Web site is to create awareness, the audience will be viewers. Knowing the audience is the key to successful Web site design.

John Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
John Michael may be reached by sending electronic mail to

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