I’m now knee-deep in three client projects that need my attention and that of my designer Josh Lamont. The single biggest discussion revolves around the end User Experience or UX for short.
There are plenty of conversations already had and no doubt a bucket load more with regards to how the end website will look like, function and give for the ideal end-user experience. Let’s face it a crappy experience is truly the only way to lose a potential customer.
We have all been there and for some of us worked in Agencies and web-based businesses that simply don’t get it. The bulk of the issues rely on differing experiences and what each individual contributor brings to the table. Additionally in board-rooms across the globe inexperienced senior managers that are fully aware of the web tend to discredit UX and UI elements for fear of actually becoming discredited by their lack of end-user principles.
Since departing from the ‘Agency’ concept I have found that gently guiding clients through education and awareness leads to a better understanding. This I believe was my biggest single mistake when I managed the suite of websites for a tourism experiences provider based out of Sydney, New South Wales.
Here is a little vid to pave the way for the remainder of this post – enjoy
in late 2007 and most of 2008 I managed had a great little team of collaborators that really understood the web and how to go about telling stories, engaging with the public / visitors and then converting them into either paying customer or returning visitors. Unfortunately the people up one level in the business did not.
Normally the regular visitors would regularly call into a website to gather information and perhaps plan a holiday. Why? because all the information was there at your finger tips – however there was always one caveat….how did the user actually find the content.
In simple terms the business had amassed a bag full of websites (last count about 11) which were created using static presentations that required a developer, a designer and a content aggregator to manage the presentations – hmm 3 seats kept warm in winter and sweaty in summer – great business logic really. To add insult to injury both the designer and the content person had their hands tied as the developer was the only person who could translate the work into the code of the website.
This is very much a late 1990′s method of operating yet believe it or not I left the organisation at the end of 2008 and to this day 2011 it is still doing the same thing. Looking back I remember thinking why????
During my tenure I took three revised digital strategies to the senior management team, the aim was to get sign off on the improvement to the web presentations. I was silly enough to assume the decision makers understood the importance of designs, ability to update the content and overall approach to user engagement. Whilst the argument and theory weren’t contested, the decision to make it all come together was never really understood and or adopted.
As you can imagine the news filtered back to my team (3 times mind you) baffled them and ultimately disillusioned everyone….try to then manage a team of Gen Y’s with poor motivation levels – but that’s a different topic and possibly a post down the track.
Back to the concept and reason for this post, it became clear from the solid Google analytics investment / integration in the code across the entire website collection, that users were simply not sticking, the average page views were abysmal and the links back to the website remained stagnant (an undisputed SEO tactic) - after all why would you link to a website with a dated look and user engagement right?
In the end the Web Team’s enthusiasm subsided and we simply went about trying to change the world with smaller stepping stones….this is were I learnt one of my biggest usability and UX lessons….
Gaining confidence and an understanding of why you are suggesting changes that have been designed paramount …the journey and the end returns need to be clearly evident to the decision makers…however the key to gaining acceptance is educating the ill informed to make them look good prior to a pitch for change. Seeking acceptance for your ideas for change needs to happen one step at a time. In the ideal world (as designers and Ux specialists) you need to let go and part with knowledge and wisdom so that others in the decision team look good in front of their peers…
Google Bombs – of a different kind
The biggest bomb though occurred one morning towards the end of my tenure and unbeknownst to me the previous developer for one of the sites decided it was a great thing to have keywords on the home page hidden by way of white text on a white background.
Nothing prepares you for an email from Google early in the morning as you prepare for your day….telling you your site is suspended from the search engine for violation of its terms….I recall to this day what my team said it
“Does not surprise us…”
As a reasonable manager at the time I took responsibility however to this day i’m absolutely baffled why a modern-day web business that relies on Google’s indexing system had applied a 1990′s SEO method that was clearly in breach of modern Search Engine indexing.
Anyways I digress, the result was an instant black-ban for the breach and one of the major websites disappeared off Google quicker than Paris Hilton celebrity endorsement.
So why give my readers some background on my experiences with this organisation? The usability principles applied to the web products! This was the single biggest turn-off for me whilst managing their entire suite of online presentations, that coupled to the lack of a decent CMS really did make for some interesting days.
The product in question
I have grabbed some screenshots to show you the process a visitor would undertake to make a buying decision based on the content. Remember this is vastly improved on the previous versions thanks to my then team – 2.5 years on and nothing has changed apart from a rebrand and another website which grabs the same content from the one seen here.
In screenshot 1 you will see the home page. I have deleted any reference to the site’s name and will not post a link however hopefully the message gets through.
Upon landing on the home page a nice neat design greets you but its obvious from the very minute you step inside that the real offering gets lost with the heavy use of colours and graphic design. The call to action on the top right of the page a good attempt to close a sale, however you haven’t sold the user on why they should buy from you.
The content is a little easier to swallow but for those in the know it’s clearly written to form a bond with a search engine as opposed to a real customer. For the uninitiated you would think that in order for you take advantage of the product you would want to explore which participating businesses make up the product.
The average person would then click on the ‘Attractions’ only to be presented with another designer driven template.
Refer to the second template screenshot below and see for yourself exactly where the attractions are….look closely ok. Here’s a tip; look at the grayed out area in the LHS navigation area. I have made this really obvious by removing any reference to the pictures, content and other identifiable elements.
Now think through a users eyes that actually sees the entire page in one hit.
In real web speak a grayed out buttons, menus or call’s to action is usually not very visible on a page and deliberately designed so users can’t action a step or process. The human eye / brain is conditioned to glass over the grayed areas on a screen presentation in order to seek out the relevant information it is looking for.
After extensive user testing i.e. not the founders mothers and great uncles….it was dead set clear the button for the attraction should be made brighter….2011 is here and wow the button remains unchanged…..
If a user clicks on attractions that’s it – the list should be there in an instant. Sending visitors on a wild chase defeats the purpose of engaging with them and put simply guarantees you a lost visitor.
One click extra is one click closer to failure….
Additionally when the visitor does find the link he or she is presented with a list of attractions with missing participants…which begs the question is it the users browser or PC or the company’s intent to look completely Inc$&#^(t.
People if you need to edit your content using a static site template like this make sure you also remove the bullet points and blank spaces. In this example the content for this part was managed by the third party shopping-cart software and that too was a bugger to manage – in summary a great union of two really dumb back-end solutions working together
So in order for the user to decide if the product is right for them he or she has to rely on the content which unfortunately is an exact copy of the printed handbook that is mailed with the product. There is NO engagement, NO appealing content, NO past experiences and definitely NO end user comments and / or star ratings.
The natural process would be to part with your cash – all fine and good except users are forced to hit the Buy Now button to explore further. By form of natural connectivity the site partners up with the shopping cart platform which in itself is a massive leap forward.
What the user then experiences is a change in the actual product. and its marketed under a different brand name…nowhere on the site do you see any reference to the change in branding or business logic…again more questions surrounding credibility pop up, specially when you read content written about the old offering.
A simple fix would be to use the real estate on the home page to tell visitors of the branding change and what it means to them!!!!
Question; would you begin to doubt the credibility of the product on offer? Are you thinking along the lines of some of the testers used during my early days as the organisations Web Manager?
Most of us will continue with the shopping process and probably not give it much thought however there is also one more element completely missed from the concept and end-user experience (UX) – What the tribes / Social Media platforms out there are saying about the product.
The real challenge in todays fast-moving digital world is that businesses are no longer in control of their brands – you can make it look as good as you want, apply the design and images you see fit and even put up what we are led to believe are genuine client endorsements.
Ultimately the decision to buy is often put on hold before making that buying decision whilst checks are conducted to see what the word is on the ‘virtual street’
Unfortunately for some businesses there are blog posts, user forums, travel sites (as in the case with the described example) that have popped and put simply degrade the product all because the experience the user had past the point of purchase wasn’t good enough.
I won’t digress as this element can populate an entire blog post however whats really is important is that web users in general don’t trust unknown brands enough to believe the hype and content displayed.
If your web design is poorly constructed and the experience is not cleverly thought through, questions on credibility will begin to pop in the minds of users. This will allow you to enter the web equivalent of a world of hurt.
Businesses that mix offline marketing with online digital strategies generally tend to fare better but Internet only presentations can really come unstuck.
Hot Water Heaters…
Think of the above example summarily by picturing the following real life example I recently experienced. I was in the market for a new hot water cylinder. The Sales guy in the store really new his stuff and on a few occasions tried to close the sale by asking for an order – something didn’t stick with me and decided to forego the purchase until such time as my ‘wife’ was available to come down and sign the order – a great escape clause!
In the car park of the shop in question I sat on my iPhone and typed in the brand and model of the hot water system into Google. Within minutes I was shocked to see the amount of negative comments – not so much about the product but the poor after sales service and warranty back-up.
Additionally the notion that the product was only suited to warmer climates (we live in a very cold climate) also put a lot of doubt in my mind. When I went back into the store I handed over the iPhone and put simply asked the guy if he was aware of the bad publicity on the net (remember my search was not about price rather about other people’s experiences). The sales guy was professional and he knew he had lost a sale.
Because I practice and am passionate about UX and UI (User Interface Design) I sat with the guy and the real truth started to emerge. Some clients who uncover hidden truths by deconstructing hidden meanings usually walk away and say nothing. I thought it was prudent to tell the guy why I decided against his product.
It turned out after some candid conversation that the company was aware of the bad publicity and was keen to get rid of all remaining stocks in order to clear their inventory and move away from the bad karma online.
Amazing how the power of the web and the tribes out in the blogosphere has changed retailing and people’s buying habits isn’t it?
The example I feel clearly demonstrates that the minute doubt is put in the mind of the purchaser regardless of the medium or platform the ability to ask for the conversion will be heavily jeopardized.
Usability principles which come under the banner of User Experience or UX are completely fascinating – those that partake and think through the user elements in the minds of a potential end-user can be easily rewarded.
Those that do it wrong tend to live in a bubble that put simply protects them from growing organically on the web and if anything shelters them from a truth they mnost probably won’t want to know about.
Take a look at the info-graphic David Armano put together…essentially if you wish to pursue higher engagement you need to focus on the rhs of the graphic – or in summary aim for Social Engagement. This will repay any investments in development ten fold.
When was the last time your website underwent some serious user testing? User Experience analysis or indeed compared it self to businesses you aspire to be among?
If you have read this far thanks – I tried not to ramble too much…..drop me a line should you want further information or indeed hook-up to assess your needs a little further ok! firstname.lastname@example.org