You Can be Anything but Not Everything

When designing with the user in mind, it can be tempting to try and please everyone at the same time. While it may seem efficient or even practical to meet every possible need, in reality it’s not the best way to approach web design.

Instead of going after all potential users, it is much better to have a targeted audience. Let’s discuss why and how.

Target Your Audience for the Most Impact

If you want to reach the most people, you shouldn’t be afraid to ‘narrow down’ your audience. While a target audience denotes a specific group, having one actually maximizes reach. In fact, some of the largest reaching brands have target audiences. Take Apple, for example:

“There’s a perception that Apple designs for everybody, but it actually designs for a very-targeted audience: people who aren’t necessarily early adopters, enjoy clean-looking products and value ease of use. The company even hires people that fit that audience, so they really understand the user and incorporate internal focus groups and usability testing.” – Patrick Neeman in Pragmatic Marketing

Instead of trying to create something that met everyone’s needs, they stuck to a target audience (which happened to be quite large).
Because they designed for a targeted audience, they were better able to:

  • Focus on Goals and Tasks
  • Reduce Complexity
  • Create the Right Content
  • Delight Users

It is the essence of user-focused design, and it is rooted firmly in the foundation of a targeted audience.

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How a Targeted Audience Benefits the User

Having a targeted audience directly impacts the individual user. To understand why, think about the four key tasks mentioned above. Each of them map to a unique experience a user has while working within the UI.

Here’s an example of this in action, using two very different spreadsheet interfaces: Microsoft Excel and Google Spreadsheet. While these two programs complete the same task, they are unique because they have different target audiences, and their content planning strategy reflects that. With adequate information about those audiences, Microsoft and Google were able to compile data on their goals, needs, and desires that enabled them to create a UI that is both rewarding and task-driven.


Goal and Task: Create a powerful data analysis tools.

Complexity: Make it robust; the audience is willing to learn how to use it.

Content Language: The average user is an expert therefore marketing and help documentation should be expert as well.

Delighters: The target audience would love powerful keyboard shortcuts.


Goal and Task: Create a solution for easy spreadsheet creation and sharing.

Complexity: Keep it easy-to-use and share with others.

Content Language: The average user prefers simple language that a novice would understand.

Delighters: The target audience would love type-ahead email addresses that make sharing easier.

By creating these targeted audiences, Google and Microsoft have developed two very different interfaces built around benefiting the user.

Personas and Target Audiences

Understanding how targeted audiences can benefit both designers and users is one thing, creating those targeted audiences is another. This isn’t to say it is difficult because there is a standard process to follow. Targeted audiences are built from personas, which are fictional representations of users. Once created, they help designers maintain the mindset of who might be interacting with the project.

How do you create these personas? There are actually a few good resources for that online. Some of my favorites include this article by the Nielsen Norman Group, this explanation in Smashing Magazine, and this guide on Tuts+.

Once you have your persona, go back and create another. Now in the ideal world your design project would only need one persona – but once again, that is only the ideal. There is never just one persona. Even in our Microsoft and Google example, their targeted audience represents the needs of a variety of personas. But you can’t just design for all of them, as that would be impossible.

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The Frankenstein Persona

dual personas target audience

To create the best-fitting targeted audience, you need to prioritize your personas. If you’ve ever designed for a single persona, you’d understand why you couldn’t reasonably design for every possible one in a single interface. This is simply because each persona is different and has its own needs.

If you attempt to meet every one of their needs, you’d risk not meeting any of them. In designing like that, you’d be creating an elastic-type fictional user that changes its persona as needed. Fastened together in almost a Frankenstein manner, the designer could pick and choose parts of this elastic-type user’s identity, fulfilling the goals, needs and desires that are most convenient to them (and not the end user). Your users will not identify with this ‘super-user’, which is actually a mixture of many individual personas because it does not represent them – only certain aspects of it do.

Instead, you should sacrifice some of those personas, and focus on specific users. Prioritize which are the most important and design for them. Sure, you won’t make all of the possible users happy, but you will please some of them. Plus, there’s almost a guarantee that you’d have better success than if you designed for the ‘super-user’ that no one identifies with.

Jenn Marie

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