Anybody who has designed or developed a WordPress theme or plugin will know, and will have experienced, the situation of getting overly wrapped up in creative inspiration or technical challenges. It’s very, very easy and not categorically a bad thing.
Some of the best, most inspired work comes from these scenarios. However, in many cases, this is not always true. Often, (and unfortunately) it may mean that a developer or designer takes their eye off the ball and loses sight of their most important commodity; their users.
We’ve all been there, and we’ve all been guilty at some point. As someone who creates with WordPress, this post aims to take a look at the importance of keeping sight of the user. We start with an overview of WordPress user groups that exist, then take a look at where the core is at, before moving on to some common mistakes. Then we’ll take a look at an alternative perspective, all before wrapping up.
Think of this post as a friendly reminder. A quick cue to stop and think; who are my users, and am I solving their problems?
It is important to understand that there are many different types of users, and different ways in which you might want to group them. There are no hard and fast rules of who constitutes a user — but there are some common user types we can highlight. It might help to think of a user as stakeholder; someone who has an interest, concern, or involvement with your theme or plugin.
A basic breakdown of WordPress users could fall into something like this:
Expanding on that, you may come up with the following:
- Business owners (small, medium, large)
- Societies (bands etc)
*It is important that when we talk about corporate users, we do not necessarily assume it to mean large. It may be helpful to think of corporate as a culture rather than being directly related to size.
The ways in which users can be identified and grouped is almost endless and undoubtedly a key task in project planning. If you don’t know who your users are, you are set up to fail.
How does the core fare? Does the core keep sight of the user?
We’ve moved a long, long way from WordPress being that blogging software. The core is far more flexible than it ever has been, and is only going to get even more flexible with such a fantastic collection of minds working on it.
Trying to be everything for everybody is not the best answer, it is unrealistic and unsustainable. The key is being open and flexible enough for people to bring their own requirements to the table. This is what WordPress is doing through the creation of flexible APIs and largely smart defaults. Again, it is not trying to be everything to everybody — it gives a starting point to appease the masses and an easy route to build upon.
WordPress core, and the team behind it, understands the challenge it has dealing with such a diverse user base, and this above all else, is crucial.
#1. Being overly developer orientated
A very common, classic mistake for a theme or plugin developer is to be overly developer-orientated when the product is actually for a non-developer. Using technical language, providing complicated options, overly-complex UI and expecting a user to perform unrealistic tasks are all symptoms of being developer-orientated.
Whatever technical solutions have been designed and developed, the finished solution should be packaged in such a way that presents the solution in a user-friendly way, appropriate to the target user group.
Of course, if your target users are developer — for example, the JSON Rest API — then it may be appropriate.
#2. Failure to understand how different user groups impact on each other
Perhaps even more fundamental (and more difficult to track) than the first faux-pas mentioned is the failure to understand how different user groups impact each other. For example, a theme or plugin may initially be aimed at developers, but at some point may be handed to a client. This makes them a third-hand user, if you like. This means you need to understand and cater for that user group as well. Whatever a developer gets up to with your theme, impacts on the end user, in this case, client.
Another example may be that you have been tasked with building a plugin for a client. But really, this plugin is being actively used by customers of that client. So that’s 2 user types to watch out for. A requirement given by the client may need presenting differently to an end user, in this case, customer.
#3. Language and Terminology
Unfortunately, this is an issue that has seemingly gotten worse lately, and despite appearing a little trivial, has very real consequences.
When designing a theme or plugin, use appropriate language for your target users. If you have any doubt, always keep it safe. This includes any text or imagery within the theme or plugin, documentation, or marketing material.
A well known premium theme has a 404 page with the phrase “Bummer, your page cannot be found [sic].” Cheeky? Funny? To most, yes – but some people may perceive it as unprofessional at best, offensive at worst. “Howdy” within the WordPress admin has historically elicited similar complaints.
Sound trivial? Maybe, but these people are paying your bills. Be careful and think a little.
Being niche is fine. But so is being transparent. Quite possibly the easiest trap to fall into, is to be less transparent about who your product is for — whether it be a theme or a plugin (or an entire setup). It’s all very easy to get wrapped up in what you’re doing and miss the simplest step. Sometimes, the impression is given that a product is deliberately trying to be a bit ambiguous about its target market. None of this is good, and rarely does it end with a happy customer or user.
Remember, it’s fine to do one thing for one user (or group of users), but do it well and be transparent about it. It should be a sales pitch, not something to shy away from.
#5 Lack of empathy
Being overly dismissive of user requirements, or lacking empathy with the problem a user is trying to solve is always detrimental.
A requirement or request may not be as silly as it sounds. Certainly to a user it isn’t. Moreover, if the requirement actually is silly (or worse, dangerous/insecure), a lack of empathy does absolutely nothing to help you educate and in turn, help your user.
Let’s not be too hard on ourselves — It’s a learning process
Just like you can’t be everything, to everybody, it’s unlikely that you’ll please all of your user groups, all of the time. Your theme or plugin may not get it right occasionally, and thats okay, because it’s a learning process.
Users come and go, and their needs change. The better you understand your users, the better you’ll get at providing for them. Thats the important part — you learn and you improve.
So there you have it, a gentle reminder to look after your users, understand who your users are, and to make sure you are satisfying their needs. It may seem like stating the obvious, but it is one of the easiest and most painful mistakes to make.
Why not take 5 minutes and go back over whatever project you’re working on. . . Are you keeping sight of your users?
Tom Still is a UX designer & WordPress developer based in Brighton, England. Passionate about building WordPress based products, business and all things design. Loves a real ale and tweets a lot.