Posts Tagged user experience
The strongest new trend evident was the rise of so-called ‘ethical marketing’.
For several years the number of sites in the NZX50 appealing to the social and environmental conscience of investors has been increasing. In BIWA10 half the sites use either social or environmental responsibility as a plank of their investor and customer relations strategies.
Appealing to the conscience of investors is not a new trend, but recent events, including the crisis of world banking and continued concern over climate change have made major corporations even more keen on ‘green-washing’ and related strategies.
Of the 25 sites, ten specifically featured only ‘social responsibility’ (including sponsorship and charity initiatives), while eight featured only ‘environmental responsibility’ (including sustainability initiatives). Seven sites included both these elements.
Significantly, this was especially true of new designs. Of the 15 new site designs in 2010, 12 included either or both social and environmental initiatives.
Clearly, this trend is now seen as part of a successful approach to online investor relations. The PR benefits are clearly seen as worth the investment in adopting these strategies which are not directed at maximising profit, but rather at attracting investment.
‘Social media’ are not yet important in NZ online investor relations.
The BIWA10 was the first time that we surveyed the NZX50 sites to see how many were using Facebook, Twitter and blogging to enhance communication with investors. We found that unexpectedly, despite media coverage of these new tools, only eight sites in the NZX50 use one or more of these ‘social media’:
- five used Facebook
- four used Twitter
- and three were blogging about corporate affairs.
The use of social media is not related to a high BIWA score. The companies using these tools to communicate with investors are not those who are already maximising their web presence to communicate with this audience. In other words, listed companies in NZ have yet to successfully harness the communication power of these new interactive strategies.
Some companies clearly used social media to communicate with customers (rather than investors), but this happens outside the corporate sites that we are surveying. Only when they are used for targeted investor communication will these tools become more widespread in the NZX50 sites. And this will only happen when listed companies become more accustomed to focusing their online strategies on communicating with potential and actual investors.
At present, given the number of NZX50 listed companies with below-par websites, it’s only fair and reasonable that they should avoid social media. Until they succeed in mastering the basics of online communication, a move into the riskier waters of Facebook and Twitter will only expose their shortcomings to public scrutiny.
Well now we’re looking at the end of the year, it might be a good time to consider what we learned from this year’s Best Investor Website Awards (BIWA2010).
New sites continue to do better. The most obvious thing, which shouldn’t be news but is, is that newly-designed sites in general are better than older ones. This was not always the case. I was disappointed in 2008 to discover that of the sites that had been redesigned in the 2007–08 year, only half had improved their ranking.
So in 2008 a site that was redesigned had the same chance of being either improved or made worse. The outcome, rather than being a sound investment in improved user experience, was the same as a simple coin toss.
This year 80% of the redesigned sites have retained or improved their BIWA rankings. Each year more and more of the new site designs show an improved experience for the investor audience. In other words, if a listed company recently paid for a redesign, this year there was four times the chance it would be improved for users rather than made worse. That makes paying for a new web design look like a fairly solid bet, if you want to enhance the experience your actual and potential investors have in using your site.
I think that this turnaround is a product of broader understanding about user-centred design within the NZ web design industry – which is good news, if a little overdue. It seems that our efforts at Wired to agitate for enhanced understanding of users and their needs is bearing fruit – or are at least in tune with the times, since probably it’s not ALL our doing!
‘The Gap’ is widening – I’ve been arguing for the last couple of years that the NZX50 is gradually splitting into two ‘bunches’, like a cycle race. The leaders have made an effort to design online information for the investor audience, and those in the trailing bunch have still failed to understand the point of this.
Following on from my earlier point about new designs being better, this year six of the Top 10 company sites feature new designs. But by contrast, in the Bottom 10, there are still three that have new designs which are frankly still not up to scratch.
The overall spread of BIWA scores between top and bottom was only 39 points in 2008 – but in 2010 this had increased to 54 points. And while the best and the worst are moving further apart, the overall average score of the BIWA remains much the same around at 66 out of 100. But don’t be fooled! This does not mean that there’s an even spread of scores from top to bottom. There really is a ‘gap’ opening between the top 10 – whose average score increased this year by two points to 82.5 – and the bottom 10, whose average score decreased by three points to 46.2.
And what is the message of all this? Any listed company wanting to enhance the online information it offers to investors should seek the advice of web designers with experience in understanding the investor audience. Because these guys are going to give your investors a web design suited to their specific needs – and that’s what your competition is doing, which is why your investors are increasingly likely to expect it from you.
Customer centric evangelist Gerry McGovern always gets me revved up with his weekly posts about being customer-orientated on websites. His recent piece about information overload really pressed my buttons, particularly this sentence:
When it comes to information, we really need to shift back to a focus on quality, not quantity.
Information overload thanks to the internet has always been an issue for me. I’ve never enjoyed the information rich media sites of the big publishers, the newspaper and television news sites, finding them over-whelming and massive time wasters. Yet the drive to stay informed often makes me re-visit such sites, time after time, with the same poor experience.
So when Gerry McGovern disagrees with technology boffins telling us the problem is not too much information but rather our poor filters, I’m reminded of the things I was taught when working in the NZ Government Printing Office and legal publishing business.
Editors, writers and, yes, librarians are meant to help us find and understand the quality information by doing some filtering for us, yet in so many ways their role seems disturbed by the internet and the world wide web. Thanks to the scroll bar you can easily create a web page so full of information that finding something interesting to read just becomes tiresome, and according to research and experience quoted by McGovern people are dis-engaging.
Overload more than economics is a reason I think the big publishers have had trouble getting people to pay for content on the internet. It’s not just because we can get it for free elsewhere, it’s because the value of published information has been reduced so much by the electronic interface, that people find it difficult to put a value on it to themselves. So they don’t.
When everything was published on paper you had a natural constraint, a hand-brake pulling on and slowing you down. Now thanks to electronic interfaces on everything from your personal computer to your phone, publishers can just add more, and all we have to do is scroll to cope with it.
I don’t think so. We need to show more restraint. And beautiful as they are, I don’t think the iPad or the latest app technology is going to save publishing until publishers get the message people like Gerry and others are pushing. Think about your customer.
In my work as a user experience consultant I’m often asked to review sites that customers are concerned about. One classic cause for concern is that a site for some mysterious reason is so far down the Google search results that it might as well not exist. There’s a whole industry of charlatanism around ‘search engine optimisation’ – the alleged science of improving a site’s rankings.
I don’t claim to understand how Google ‘really works’, but I know a few things. The contents of headings and the initial paragraphs of body text is very important. Google’s search tools will analyse these to identify keywords to assists in ranking sites, and they’ll become aware if terms are repeated too often. My best advice is to carefully craft these words especially on your homepage, to reflect what you site is really about and at whom it is aimed.
So why do some sites do especially badly at this? I saw a classic example of this recently in a site I was asked to review. This had been designed by some ‘Flash Harrys’ in the corporate branding game, and it certainly smelled like a pile of money. At first glance the homepage content looked pretty good, the keywords I was looking for were all there. Then I performed a simple check – I put my cursor on the page and tried to select some text from the first paragraph. No go – nothing – nada – nyet, Kapitan…
Why could I not select the text? It wasn’t text at all, it was a picture of some text. Not the same thing at all, Veronica.
Google’s software endlessly trawls the internet reading text and following hyperlinks between sites. If it’s not actually a hyperlink, or formatted text, Google’s digital elves can’t read it – so it may as well NOT BE THERE.
My clients had paid good money for a site where all the principal content pages looked like pages of relevant text but were in fact images of text. As far as Google was concerned it was a site without content, and that was why it was ranking very low on the search results.
So my hot tip for evaluating your own website is – if it looks like it has a lot of unusual formatting overlaying text and images, logos and other branding devices – check that the written content really is text, and that there really is a heading at the top.
Try my cursor-selecting trick, or click ‘View > Page source’ in the browser window, if you can’t read the page content anywhere in the page source code, chances are it isn’t text at all. And in that case your site is ‘search engine sub-optimal’ – and if that worries you, you need to get it fixed – and fast.
Because increasingly – if your business can’t be found on the net, it can’t be found at all.
I’ve recently completed a review of a prototype e-commerce site for a corporate client. Every time I do a job like this I learn something new about the silly stuff web developers do because they think about system and interface design more than they do about user needs.
This time I picked up a couple of classics which I’d like to share with you, because they establish some key rules of user centred design. Things you don’t want to try at home with your own shiny new site.
Number one – where should you put the user registration page?
Now this one sounds totally obvious, but so I don’t sound like a total smarty who’s never locked his keys in the car, I should point out I’d had about six sessions evaluating the site before I twigged to this issue.
One of the key tasks of this site is the user log-in. Retailers seeking to order from the site need to log-in to access the e-commerce functions. Now there were some problems with the design and location of the Retailer log-in link, which I duly dealt with. Then I suddenly thought – what if you don’t have a log-in, how do you apply for one?
I had a look round, and realised I couldn’t see an application form anywhere – but I was darn sure I had seen one at some point. So I checked every pixel of the Homepage and the Contact us page – nothing at all. I checked a few other possible but less likely spots. Grrrrr! Nothing. Then I had an idea – I clicked the Retailer log-in link, which took me to a page where I could enter my log-in to open a shopping cart. And there was the application form. I knew I’d seen it somewhere, and here it was – in the last place in the site that I thought to look…
Go on, you do the maths.
It’s an invitation to register as a user, and it’s in the last place I (a representative user) had looked. Not the second place, or the third… the last place. So it’s a serious usability issue. It made me feel stupid… and web users really hate that.
Why did I feel stupid? Because the registration form was behind the link you click to log in. Who clicks that? Only users with log-ins, actually. So the very people who have no reason to click this link (users who don’t yet have a log-in) are the very ones who must somehow guess that this is the thing they must do. Furthermore – it’s accessible only by that one link in the top navigation. It’s a page you’ll never get to from any other page, or from a text link, or by using the search function (read on to find why you can’t search for it).
So take a deep breath and repeat after me: “if you want users to register for a log-in, make the link really obvious”.
The Homepage is a good spot for this, because lots of folks go there; and so is Contact us, because it makes sense on a semantic level – requesting a log-in is a kind of contact initiated by your users. So that’s where they’ll look.
Number two – when is a search box not a search box?
This is another classic that shows how web designers can get tricked by their knowledge of a site’s back end. Users never make decisions based on back end knowledge, because many of them don’t know where the back end is, they just see graphic interfaces, and to them that’s what sites are.
It’s not dumb, it’s human. We understand what we see in the light of our experience – our mental schema. If users’ experience doesn’t include how interfaces and databases interact, then as far as users are concerned, that interaction doesn’t happen.
This is illustrated by what happened when I tried to use the Search box on the B2B site I’m talking about. I was looking of that pesky log-in registration form, and I tried searching for a few key words, such as ‘registration’ and ‘log-in’ (all the different spellings, actually: login, log in, log-in…). I was mystified, no results at all, did this darn thing even work? Now that’s a usability issue of sorts, if the thing’s actually busted… But then I had an idea, and I searched for a key product category, and – bingo!
This search box was a blank text box, with the heading ‘Search’ written on the left side, and a nice clear button on the left labelled ‘Go’ (I personally prefer omitting that heading and putting ‘Search’ on the button: but whatever, I was just trying to start the engine on the pesky heap by this point, I didn’t care so much what kind of tyres she had).
But what I’d realised was indeed a usability issue, and it was related to that heading by the box.
This one wasn’t a real search box at all, not one that used a search engine to interrogate the text contents of the web pages. No, this was a ‘Product search’ box, one that only interrogates the database of products that sits behind the site and underpins all the e-commerce functionality.
Calling it ‘Search’ tricked me into thinking I could use it to look for page content like annual reports, or directors’ names. The developers all knew it was actually a database search, because they built the blasted thing – so from their perspective, it didn’t need an explanatory label – ‘everyone’ knew what it was.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
The site’s users absolutely needed to be told this, so they could use the search to achieve their goals quickly and easily. Otherwise they were going to waste time like I did, and either eventually realise their ‘mistake’, and feel like a bunch of Homer Simpsons told to take their pick in a roomful of shovels – or they were going to ring or email customer support (perhaps in their hundreds, if all went well with the site launch) and report that the Search was broken.
And that will cost money, and then it won’t be the customers whacking their foreheads and grunting ‘Doh!’ It’ll be the web developers who are doing that – the ones who knew what kind of search it was in the first place.
“We’ve spent thousands on that website, and its bringing in no business at all. None of our customers seem to use it – we may as well have written it in a foreign language!”
No one should be saying this kind of thing about their organisation’s online presence, yet this problem is depressingly common. Very often the problem is the process used to design the site. Every variable was seemingly taken into account – except the most important one: “What do our customers actually want from our web site?” The solution is a new way of stating the questions that form the basis for web design: a perspective known as ‘user experience’ (UX) or ‘user-centred design’ (UCD).
Web initiatives are now a commonplace strategy for business and government alike. Increasingly web sites form the centre of organisational communication and marketing strategies. As a result, most of these organisations have got over the thrill of simply having a presence in cyberspace.
Now people are asking the hard questions, like:
- “What’s our website really for?”
- “How do we use the web to make our business grow?”
- “Are our customers satisfied with the experience of using our site?”
In the early days of web/business integration it was often enough to just decide that a website was a ‘must have’. Few businesses actually made the effort to find out whether their customers really wanted a website, and if they wanted one, what they would actually want to use it for. Those days have well and truly passed now!
If you take a look at businesses that have succeeded in using the internet to grow, there are a few common features. These features are the ones now known as ‘user-centred design’ or ‘usability’.
A classic example of an NZ site that succeeds through using the user experience perspective is Trade Me. One of the keys to Trade Me’s success was that they have always put the site user – the customer – at the centre of the equation. The site was designed to easily give customers what they wanted – not what the management team or the web designer wanted them to have.
Many sites present information that the owners think is important, but that ‘real people’ – actual users of the site – find unhelpful: as unhelpful as if it was written in a foreign language.
Other under-performing sites organise their content under poorly-designed headings that aren’t comprehensible at first glance – or have ‘working parts’ that are hard to use. A common design error is to animate the navigation links so that they move around the screen as you try to click them. Some web designers will tell you this is ‘cutting edge’ – your customers will use words that are much less complimentary!
‘User centred design’ (or UCD) focuses on user needs and goals. It will be one of the essential characteristics of future net success. Many studies have shown that for every dollar spent on user experience, businesses have gained ten dollars in increased revenue.
Sites with ‘good UX’ have a number of key characteristics, including:
- their navigation is intuitive – it can be understood ‘at-a-glance’
- their content is written specifically for online delivery, not simply re-used from hard copy marketing collateral
- your customers don’t have to ‘learn’ how to use the site – they can immediately see how to ‘do’ everything they need to
- ‘usable’ site content is often internationalised, so it can be easily read by those for whom English is not a first language
- accessibility guidelines are followed, so that all customers can use the site, even those with poor eyesight or low dexterity
- online help is visible on the screen where it is needed if users do become confused
- all the site features work properly, regardless of what browser software is being used
Usability consultants, also known as information designers, can design usability into new sites, or evaluate existing sites and make them more usable. A key strategy is to ‘test’ sites with real users. Test subjects are asked to interact with sites and their reactions are observed. If the methodology is right, this can be done cheaply and quickly, with as few as three participants.
Wired Internet Group is one New Zealand web design company that has risen to the usability challenge. Wired has applied the concepts of UCD to the sites of some of its key clients. Wired’s usability consultants have developed a range of services, from full usability testing to quicker and more flexible approaches.
A good first step is to assess the users’ actual experience of using a site by means of an expert evaluation. An information designer reviews the site and uses the information gained from this to interview both the site owners and some actual users. This process reveals what the site owners’ goals actual goals are, as well as what the users’ really need. From this we can see where the two sides’ intentions and expectations fail to match. A written report outlines both findings and proposed solutions to specific usability concerns.
A usability test expands on this approach, the expert evaluation is used to identify ‘usability concerns’ with the target site. The test consists of asking up to half a dozen representative users to try looking for specific information or performing specific tasks while using the site. The usability consultant observes the test with a video camera and notes where groups of users are having trouble or misunderstanding the site. From these observations a report can be written recommending improvements that will enable people to enjoy trouble-free interactions with the site under review.
As awareness of the ‘usability revolution’ spreads through the business and public sectors in New Zealand, demand is growing for web design and review services that match with the objectives of user-centred design. As more and more business is done online, there is less and less room for those websites that seem to be written in a language that customers don’t speak.
When considering web design and communication in general, I’m wary of the ‘c’ word. People who claim that their ‘point of difference’ is to be creative tend in my cynical experience to mean one of two things:
1. Either they are woolly thinkers who try to dress everything in extraneous and distracting fancy dress to distract us from their inability to think and communicate clearly about essentials.
2. They have previously worked in advertising.
Usually both, now I think about it a little more.
The key indicator that a communication product is ‘creative’, is that they make you do all the work to work out what they are really telling you.
The website or billboard or print ad or TV ad will be about something mundane like financial services, but you’ll have to play a guessing game to work it out, because it seems to be about fish/birds/monkeys/flying cars or about taking grandma for a walk in a wheelchair or getting someone flowers or children in danger in a war zone.
I’m writing exhaustingly long sentences because thinking about these damn things is exhausting. People who think this way are HAPPY if all you can remember is children in danger in a war zone, even if the ad was about travel agents or milk… or financial services.
This problem is at its worst when the communication product is a website, because web users have a real aversion to needless thinking. There’s a ton of research that supports the idea that making customers at a transactional site think for a split second about which menu header to click can cost a business tens of thousands of dollars.
So what do we make of a web consultancy that offers visitors a first point of contact on a splash page (just ignore how stupid that is for a moment, as that’s not my point here) which offers them two clickable ‘jet plane’ jelly sweets – one red, one green – and tells them that some bogus percentage of visitors ‘choose the red plane’? (Please note that the percentage varies each time you refresh the page – so it really is bogus.)
At this point I ask you to think again about the last paragraph.
This outfit seriously think we might hire them as some sort of web/advertising/brand creation consultancy, and they offer us a splash page with a frankly meaningless bit of snake oil vending about red and green sweets, demanding we choose one or other before we are even worthy to peruse further evidence of their alleged ‘hire-ability’.
Having an ‘attitude’ is one thing, but making people evaluate your frankly meaningless brand pitch for even a tenth of a second across such a patently non-choice ‘decision’ as this, has gotta be the online marketing equivalent of that ‘Kick Me’ sign your sister stuck on your back when you were seven.
Why does this matter, and what does it tell us about ‘creative consultancies’?
Well in my opinion it tells us that the communication product they will produce with their clients’ money is firstly all about THEM, the agency, and their cleverness, and by implication, about their unfeasibly large invoices.
Secondly it’s about the client and their brand, and how everyone needs to be thinking about that brand all the time, even if they don’t want or need any services it might represent.
And only thirdly (if at all) is it about you and me, the poor saps who are trying to work out what it is they are really telling us and whether we (frankly) give a damn about any of it.
The ‘creative’ approach works like Andrew Loog Oldham, who famously said a propos of the Rolling Stones – whom he was managing at the time – ‘no publicity is bad publicity’.
The creative approach is to get you thinking about their product at any cost and at all times: effectively – ‘no customer attention is bad attention’.
This is the opposite of the user-centred approach, which begins from the principle that making your users think more than they have to is wasting their time – and since the user is king; wasting their time is likely to get your head cut off – and not to earn you a knighthood.
The user-centred approach can also be genuinely creative, in finding economical ways to communicate complex information clearly and pleasingly. This is creativity of quite a different order, however. It is audience-regarding and goal-oriented creativity – not self-regarding and solipsistic creativity.
The key question is ‘communicating complex information clearly and pleasingly to whom?’
Not to the agency getting plated with gold to do the communicating. Not to the CEO of the client company – who knows all this stuff about his company anyway, and who is already gold-plated himself. But pleasing to you – the user – the poor sap who wants to buy milk, or financial services, or even help poor children in war zones – and who needs to interface with a communication product in order to achieve these goals.
I often interview real users about their needs and objectives in cyberspace, and real users seldom cite ‘solving puzzles’ or ‘playing guessing games’ as their top priority. They’ll play Tetris, or Blokus or Champions’ League Trivial Pursuit if they want to do that. But if they’re looking for information about goods or services, they want it to be clear, easy to use, easy to understand and easy to remember.
I don’t think being ‘creative’ trumps any of this. On the contrary, if you look at it a bit more deeply you’ll see that it’s rather like the Emperor’s new clothes – or as they say in Texas: ‘all hat and no cattle’.
What are the basic steps to great online experience for your customers?
Like writing a letter, or having a one-on-one meeting, the internet is just another means of communication. This is a basic fact that we often lose sight of in all the hoopla.
So – all online experiences are about communication between two parties, you and your customers.
In order to make this work there are a few basic first steps to settle, before we start getting too technical. The goal is to create a win/win interaction, in which each party achieves their primary objectives – you communicate your message, and the customer gets the information, the service or the product that they require
First, define and rank your business objectives. What are you trying to achieve with your online presence? Increased subscriptions, more sales leads, cutting delivery costs…?
While you may have lots of business objectives, it’s critical to identify your primary objective – otherwise it’s easy to lose focus and let secondary desires get in the way of your primary mission. This can happen where more than one person or team is trying to drive the process. At the end of the day, your success will be measured on your ability to deliver on the primary objective.
Second, get a clear understanding of what you users need and want. Then consider what you can do to help your users achieve both their goals and yours?
Create simple scenarios involving your company and its customers. Identify potential solutions that solve the key problems outlined in the scenarios. For instance, your primary objective is to inform customers about new products, and you discover the main decision driver for the customer is price. Ensure that new products are grouped in one place, clearly linked from the homepage, and price information is situated at the top of every product window. If the price appears at the start of every product page, it is more likely to appear in search result summaries as well.
Finally, use your primary objective as the decision-making filter: Does the information, the technology and the design presented in your site help you achieve your primary objective – or not?
A frequent conflict is the desire to collect as much information about the visitor as possible. Many sites unwittingly make this the dominant impression for customers, often by making it impossible for them to ask the simplest question without giving you a comprehensive set of personal data. While you may want to know more about your prospects, your prospect may not be ready to share that information with you. So how do you decide between the two desires?
If your primary goal is to increase sales and customer satisfaction, e.g. then the answer is simple: Do whatever will help you achieve that goal – and that typically means removing anything that reduces your conversion rates, such as filling out lengthy forms. If your customers realise that you have what fulfils their needs, they’ll voluntarily give you the information you need when you give them the chance. The key thing is to make it seem in their interests, rather than yours.
If you get these basic communication issues straight, both your customers and you will get what you want from your website. Every one of these little successful interactions will go on to build the bigger business success we all need.
Visual design conventions are extensively used in web design as a ‘short hand’ to indicate functionality. We don’t usually give much thought to this. Yet it is central to our ability to design websites that work intuitively – so users ‘just know’ what they have to do.
I was recently evaluating the usability of a new online application when I identified a serious usability issue, which is common to many web pages – how do we signal the presence of ‘click and drag’ functionality?
The tool I was looking at was intended to build online ePortfolios for students. This is a common requirement of online learning sites, including staff training sites. Users need to be able to easily create a mini site where they can display examples of their work, create online CVs, and write learning blogs to demonstrate such things as progress with internship tasks.
This application was very clear and intuitive – until I got to the stage that allowed me to design my own page by setting up columns, and adding functional items such as text boxes, video links, RSS feeds, and photo galleries. In the top half of the screen was a set of tabbed areas that contained widgets to create these functions in ‘my page’ – which was represented by a blank workspace box in the lower half of the screen.
I realised I was meant to select the functions at the top and then add them to my workspace below. But how? Much clicking and swearing ensued. First I concluded that I was just an idiot who couldn’t work out what to do next. But I had managed every other part of the process up to that point. Sadly the help topics hadn’t been written yet (that was my next job). After a while I decided that since I was literate and a frequent web user, the page must be broken. I was about to email the developer to report this, when one last grumpy stab with the mouse saved me from humiliation. I had accidentally moved one of the widgets in the tabbed area.
EUREKA! The idea was that users would select the item they needed, such as an electronic ‘album’ for a picture gallery, and click and drag it down to add the function to their work space below. So simple – so what was the problem? After some reflection I realised that it was caused by the lack of visual clues on the page. No other part of the application had used this model of functionality, and since there was minimal explanatory text on the pages (and up to that point this had been no problem) – I had no warning that the ‘functional paradigm’ had shifted.
Then I realised that there was no universally-agreed visual sign at all for this functionality. Clickable links are shown like this – no one has to write the words ‘click here’ if the text is underlined (doubly so if it’s blue). When we use Windows Explorer to organise files using the ‘click and drag’ method there is no visual clue on the page, we just know from experience that it works that way. And in other applications, when we see two vertical panes, one with a sort of ‘tree’ or nested hierarchy the other with a list of files, then the chances are you can click and drag stuff from one pane to the other.
Maybe if the two parts of the screen had been side by side, I’d have guessed faster what to do, but then my work space would have been less than full width – which is a problem if I’m designing its graphical layout. I actually haven’t come up with a solution to this – other than advising the developers to insert some text with those three little words ‘click and drag’. But if anyone reading this has an answer, feel free to share it with me!
In winter 2008 I organised a comparative review of the homepages of the fifty biggest NZ companies not in state ownership. This revealed a few interesting things, including that in NZ good homepage usability is at present largely the preserve of B-to-C transactional sites. Currently NZ companies are not regarding the web as the primary, or even a major, means of investor or customer relations management. But that’s a separate story.
What I want to discuss today is what happened next. After a month or so I decided to check the sites and find out what changes had occurred, since we were getting ready to mount a bit of publicity on the back of this thing. My curiosity was roused by the discovery that five sites had had pretty major makeovers in the intervening weeks. Could we discern any trends, I wondered?
And the answer, friends, is yes we can.
The sites that had been worked on are the following:
The sites themselves gave some background to this. The BNZ site was redesigned in order to introduce enhanced customer security, Works was redesigned because of a corporate rebranding exercise, and the others stated no reason. Obviously I don’t know what these exercises cost, but my guess is that at least three of these were fairly expensive.
And the bad news in summary? Two went up in ranking, and three went down.
Those that improved were:
AFFCO was rated at 44%, now 86%, that’s a climb from 47 to 2 out of 50.
Fisher & Paykel was rated at 52%, now 69%, that’s a climb from 44 to 21 out of 50.
Those that became worse were:
Works was rated at 73%, now 45%, that’s a drop from 12 to 47 out of 50.
BNZ was rated at 78%, now 69%, that’s a drop from 4 to 21 out of 50.
Guardian Health Care was rated at 67%, now 57%, that’s a drop from 27 to 37 out of 50.
To my mind, these results are actually fairly random, and that’s a trend in itself.
I would honestly have thought that a business that is going to expend some serious shareholder coin on revamping its website would give thought to the issue of making the homepage more usable to site visitors.
I don’t feel I have to justify or explain that – it’s a no-brainer, even if there’s an ulterior motive for the redesign, such as rebranding. And yet, whether or not their usability improved is pretty much a coin toss. If there is any trend, it’s towards declining usability.
Frankly, I find these results a little shaming. Is this how poorly our major corporates are ‘getting’ the web? Sadly, I think that’s true.
In fact, if I may be permitted an anecdote to support this contention, the case of MacquarieGoodman is even more damning. In a separate study of the NZX Top 50, I rated this homepage as second most usable of all the Top 50, on 85% [http://www.goodmanintl.com].
A week after the study was made public, they rebranded the company with a major ad agency-driven makeover. The homepage plummeted to a 56% rating, taking itself down to 49th out of the 50. You could smell the money they’d spent, wafting out of the monitor – and the net result was, you couldn’t tell from the homepage what their business was about, who the site was intended for, nor what content you might expect to find in it. It looks very glossy, but usability isn’t just a beauty contest – and this thing looks good in a bikini but can’t name the current president of the USA.
It’s really hard to credit, but so many businesses still think a good website has to look uber-glossy and utterly minimal, and consequently be completely opaque as to your actual meaning. This is a sign of terminal corporate self-regard, rather than an indication of a mature user-centred web presence.
Please work with me people. Repeat after me – in preparation for that next web strategy meeting with your managers: “What is the web? The web is a medium of communication… Stupid!”