My wife is on line, ordering supplies for her jewelry-design business, which means it’s time for me to slip out and take a little drive – say, to Machu Picchu. Maybe she’ll be cooled off by the time I get back.
The thing is, her primary supplier is in every other respect a great company to do business with, but ten minutes on their website reduces her to an incandescent fury of snarling, raving, impotence. She orders – or reorders, as usually is the case – supplies at least once a month, and at least once a month she can’t find a thing she needs.
Well, eventually she does, but from the way they confuse, obfuscate, and misdirect, you’d think she was on the trail of an escaped felon, not a set of drill bits.
The worst part is that when she finally gives up and calls a customer-service representative to complain about their @#$%! website, they laugh: “Oh, everyone hates it,” they shrug. “I suppose one of these days IT will get around to changing it.”
Which may explain the problem in a nutshell: Should IT be trusted to design websites? Implement and support them, sure – but design? I mean, doesn’t designing websites require some level of empathy for the human condition? Would I want my business or personal website designed by the same Vulcan lady I call when my hard drive crashes? (How illogical!)
As I pondered this, a list of website Do’s and Don’ts came to mind. Perhaps you’ll find it useful…
A website is not a Tolstoy novel. Users aren’t there to peruse it in depth. They want pertinent information to leap out at them, and non-pertinent information…not to be there at all. If they want more data, give it to them in layers via drilldowns. Don’t drown your users in verbiage.
There’s a reason why playing “Where’s Waldo” can be so hard: seeing is not a linear process. Our eyes are programmed to scan and make note of shapes, movement, colors, patterns. If they detect something of interest – ripe fruit, a lurking jaguar – then they focus. The user ought to detect in a glance, if not the specific object of interest, the direction in which to go.
Speaking of direction, if you require your user to follow a process, arrows and milestones are great ideas (hint, hint).
Clutter is camouflage. What are you trying to hide? And why?
No matter how footloose and free-spirited we imagine ourselves, all of us are, to one extent or another, creatures of habit. We are culturally – and perhaps even biologically – conditioned to do certain things in certain ways. We seek iconic icons; we expect certain functions to be left-mouse-button and others to be right-mouse-button; we’re programmed to look for dropdowns and help menus formatted in specific ways; we’re trained to follow implicit procedures and workflows, and so on, and so on.
Sad? Boring? Hobgoblins of little minds? Maybe so, but comforting and reassuring, too. Consistency and convention are a web-designer’s friends. Use them!
Visiting a website invites a game of “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” Make it easy for the user to win. Really think through the overarching taxonomy. Collect items in logical groups and subgroups, and make plain what each group is how it connects to the others.
Pay close attention to graphics, fonts, layouts, colors. How information is presented often trumps the information itself. People tend only to read 20%-30% of a website on the first go. You might be giving away the secret to eternal youth on your website, but if it does not get noticed, you won’t get any takers.
Don’t exhaust your users’ limited stockpiles of patience. They’re in a hurry. They want to find what they want then get out. Accommodate them. Let them decide what constitutes too little information and give them easy, intuitive tools to get more IF THEY WANT IT!
A website is a tacit sales presentation. Do you like speakers who drone on and on and wander all over the map? No? Neither do your users. Your website needs to get to the point, say what needs to be said, then invite the user to ask follow-up questions.
Michelangelo may not have cared a fig for what others thought of his art, but you are not he. Moreover, all his “users,” if you will, expected to do with the Sistine Chapel is marvel at the wonders of God, not order a pair of shoes from Paris.
When designing a website – or anything else, for that matter – seek outside opinions early and often. Listen to them. Take them to heart. Ten minutes spent early in the design process can obviate days of rewrites and fixes in a “live” environment. You’ll thank yourself afterward, and your customers will too.