Wolfgang Blau, editor in chief of Zeit Online in Germany came to talk about user-centric design but as he quickly pointed out “all design should be user centred”.
One one level his presentation was about the graphical re-design of a newspaper site with the associated issues of font size and ad layout but behind that was the question of how to deliver an audience not based on chasing numbers but instead attracting and retaining a select target group. “Die Zeit is small but it sometimes sets the debate agenda for Germany so we want to be Germany's best debate portal.”
What followed was an exhaustive process of user testing and redesign, resulting in a site where every user has the ability to create a profile page that collects their contributions “with buttons so big that look like they come from Fisher Price [the toy company] because in total the number of surfers aged sixty and over is greater than those aged twenty or less.” Amongst the insights that Blau shared was the fact that designers “always give you mock ups featuring the kind of great ads you dream of – insist they use ugly images and nasty ads instead because a truly strong design can handle that.” Another was that Twitter proved invaluable as users reported problems (such as obscure combinations of OS and browser) in real time.
The end result was that the old site was “pruned – like you would with a fruit tree that had previously stopped giving fruit”.