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How to Design a Community Your Users Will Love

Written by Molly Talbert | on November 16, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Have you recently visited a website plagued by confusion and disorganization? You can't find what you're looking for, and you're not even sure what you're looking at to begin with. That’s bad user experiencewhat any community wants to avoid.  If your user experience is less than easy, then maybe they will come, but don’t count on them sticking around or returning any time soon.

So how do you make a community that is friendly, easy to navigate and brings people back? It’s a combination of factors, from colors and fonts to page layout. User experience is crucial for the success of your communitynot only will the community look cleaner, but it will make your members happier and more successful. Simplicity and creativity aren’t mutually exclusive, as this list of award winning websites shows.

Here are six tips to keep in mind while designing your community for optimal user experience:

  • First impressions—have a welcoming home page. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning at the start: a good, simple and welcoming homepage is very important. Make it easy for newcomers to know exactly what your community is about at first glance, and ensure your homepage is up-to-date with information and hot/trending topics. Middlebury College does a really good job of this with their website. Quick tip: the best navigation bars are intuitive and answer a user’s question almost before they have it. The mark of a good navigation includes an About Us option, a resources option and a place to learn more about products, like testimonials or a blog.
  • How many ways is your site used? Your site may have one overarching purpose - create an online community for your organization - but the actual community has multiple functions. When designing your site, keep all those functions in mind. How can you make it easier to browse through pages and discussions? Are there any roadblocks that make it difficult for people to search the library or past discussions? Is contributing to a discussion easy and intuitive? Quick tip: listen to your community! Maybe start a “suggestions” thread so people can give feedback. They’ll be your best gauge for knowing how intuitive your design is.
  • Optimize your site for mobile. A huge part of user experience is making sure your community works on all platforms. I thought of this the other day when trying to check the gym schedule on my phone—it's not a mobile friendly website, and I had a lot of trouble figuring out class times because the fonts were so small. You want your members to feel like the community is always in their hands and easy to use. Ideally, offer a branded app or a bootstrapped, responsive design site. Quick tip: it could be worth it for your community to look into an app. There are pros and cons to having an app, but a huge pro is the speediness over responsive design for those on the go. There are also other added features, like the ability to send push notifications to your members and track mobile engagement.
  • Keep members’ accessibility in mind. If you want to be a truly inclusive and engaging community, it’s important to think about access for everyone. This goes beyond simple mobile optimization or an app. From magnifiers to text readers, people use all kinds of assistive technologies to help them use computers. A clean design, intuitive layout, readable fonts (both size and color) also contribute to increased accessibility. Quick tip: it’s important to think how accessibility benefits everyone; it shouldn’t be seen as an added step or an afterthought.
  • Simplicity is key. It’s easy to get caught up in the urge to continue adding shiny new features. Staying relevant to members is crucial, but creating new unused features doesn’t help. Rather than spending too much time on things that aren’t proven, spend more time refining and perfecting what people already know, use and love. You don’t want your users to feel like a deer caught in headlights every time they try to navigate your site. Sure, if there’s a new feature people have asked for or you believe is truly worth the effort, make it. But continue to focus on making what you do have better, rather than reinventing the wheel. Quick tip: constantly look for redundancies and ways to streamline the experience. Again, your users could be a key part of this; listen to what they’re saying and any complaints (or compliments) they have.

Really, many of these points boil down to one thing: simplicity. Err on the path of least resistancethat’s what your members like. They want to quickly understand what you do, what the site is for, how to access important information and contribute to conversations. Making the process easier can be anything from a simple font size change to a bigger, deeper overhaul of the site’s layout. Either way, it’s important and will pay off.


Topics: Community Platforms & Updates, Marketing, Member Experience, Online Community

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