10 Questions on Empathy & Designing a User-Friendly Website
An interview with Hillary Weiss, copywriter and badass.
Can you remember back to that one moment, experience, or lesson that was really the starting point of your current work or journey? For me, that was meeting Hillary Weiss.
To be honest, I can’t even remember exactly how I stumbled across her work but, once I saw her website, I had to know more. You know when you get an intuition, like a physical sensation, indicating that THIS thing in front of you is something you need to explore? Well, that happened when I landed on Weiss’ site.
And that was the pivotal point for my business.
(Well, one of them. Because, let’s be honest, we will pivot many times throughout our lives.)
It changed the way I write and laid the foundation for my website rebrand. And, as I’ve mentioned before, after redesigning my site I started getting client inquiries and collab requests steadily streaming in.
And one of those lovely requests was from my brilliant, inspiring friend, Hillary Weiss. She asked me to do a UX-focused interview as a bonus training for her Wordshop students. And she’s generously allowed me to share some of that with you in this post.
H: Meghan you spend a lot of time in your work talking about empathy in marketing. Can you expand a bit on what that means?
M: As an introvert, I think about what it means to be an effective communicator. In quality communication (like in quality user experience), the key component is empathy.
So, if we’re thinking about having a conversation with a friend, we don’t want to hijack the conversation and talk about ourselves the whole time.
That same principle applies to our websites. We want to have a good balance to the communication so that we’re blending our personal agenda or business objectives with the needs of our site visitors.
On Customer Research
H: We talk a bit about customer research in The Wordshops, but there are so many ways to approach it. Which strategy do you recommend clients start with?
M: Often I find that “research” becomes synonymous with surveys – both in the software world, where I work full-time, and in the world of online entrepreneurship.
But, I prefer something I’m calling “undercover research”, which is really a modified version of what UX researchers would call “ethnography”. It’s essentially observation-based research.
Meaning that I encourage my students to go into online communities where their ideal clients are hanging out or where people are talking about their niche and then to observe or listen.
H: What are things to look and listen for in customer research that can really inform copy, design, and UX?
M: In terms of design, the research isn’t as crucial because I design based on the personal brand, which is more about the business owner rather than about who they're serving.
For copy, though, research is absolutely required. I encourage them to listen for questions (“how do I…?”), problems (“I can’t figure out…”), frustrations (“I hate it when...”), and desires (“I wish…”).
Great Design Starts with Great Copy
H: You and I are both in SERIOUS agreement on this: All great design has to start with great copy. But why do you think it is so many entrepreneurs and even designers, jump the gun?
M: I think that we as creatives often get super psyched at the start of an idea or project but, when all of the to-dos start piling up, we lose focus. And, it feels easier (or as if we’re accomplishing more) to go for building the website rather than to start with research and writing.
H: You also mention you don't recommend "choosing themes for design based on aesthetics" when people are designing their own stuff. Do you recommend themes at all, or are they best avoided?
M: I don’t recommend themes because then you’re fitting your content and brand into someone else’s vision. If, however, there were a template that combined a solid copy framework with design, then that could work for beginners, which is something I provide inside The QuickSell Kit.
H: Once copy is written, how does that help you design a page?
M: After I’ve written the copy, the design is so much easier. The copy is structured in sections so we'll have the introductory headline section, then we'll have the before picture, then the after picture you want to take them through, and then your offer acts as the bridge.
And, because it's in sections this way, it makes it very easy to also design in sections. I call this method a modular layout because you're thinking in terms of rows of content, which makes it easy to add or remove rows.
Also, when it comes to having a really nice clean site, people oftentimes don't have enough white space so they don't have enough breathing room for their content. For example, maybe they'll have text spanning the whole width of the browser window, which becomes very challenging to read.
So I try to give enough breathing room to the content, which helps with both design and user experience.
On Crafting a User-Friendly Website
H: I'd love to hear you talk a bit about user experience. What I love about your site is that it's so crisp and clear, and the reader and consumer always knows where to go next. How do you map that out before design?
M: To be honest, I feel like good UX is pretty formulaic. There are established patterns that internet savvy people come to expect and so, when you follow those patterns, it makes for an easy-to-navigate site.
And a good rule-of-thumb is to layout the top navigation links in the order that your user might visit them and to give each of those pages one primary call-to-action.
H: What are some of your favorite sites for design, copy, and experience?
M: Ash Ambirge recently redid her site The Middle Finger Project. It's very content heavy and with several different potential paths that users could go down. So that's a great example, if you do have a lot of content or several products, to look at how she lays that out and how the navigation flows.
I also tend to like really minimal sites. So Paul Jarvis’ is super simple with his home page focusing on getting people to sign up for his mailing list.
H: I’ve heard you talk about an Empathy Map. Can you tell me a bit about what it is and how it works?
M: It's a tool taken from UX design. And, essentially, it's my preferred alternative to doing a client avatar (you know those typical ideal client worksheets that we often see from online marketers). Rather than looking at those demographics which I find don't matter as much when you're selling. We look more at the psychographics:
Desires - What is your ideal client’s goal here?
Pains - What are the obstacles standing in the way of that?
Thoughts/feelings: What is your client thinking and feeling when it comes to this problem?
Words/Actions - What steps is she taking now or talking about taking?
Influences - What are her influences, both in her external environment and with people online?
H: Lastly, what's one BIG piece of advice you want to offer students for creating beautiful, responsive, easy-to-navigate websites?
M: My advice… don’t skip the moodboard. A moodboard really matters. I tried for a time to design without creating a moodboard first and it actually makes a noticeable difference in how the brand and the aesthetic and the copy and everything comes together. You can watch my full video training on moodboards here.