Part one: 5 daft assumptions brands make when redesigning websites

 
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I’m a firm believer in the power of a hack and iterating as you go but any website redesign will inevitably take a bit of time, effort and money.

Sadly, I see too many companies still making the same old daft assumptions, wasting their investment and then redesigning again in no time.

The following, in no particular order, are some of the daftest I’ve come across.

#1 Users will figure it out

Users aren’t highly excited just to be surfing the information highway on the world wide web anymore - if you don’t nail user experience, they aren’t going to stick around.

Visiting a website is as mundane as buying milk, and just like dashing to the corner shop we all want to get in, grab what we need, and be on our way as smoothly as possible.

Sadly, while most visitors will barely even notice all the clever bits of programming that causes designers to make that funny high-pitched noise, they will be quickly turned off by things like navigational screw-ups, links that go nowhere, pop-ups that are seemingly impossible to get rid of, and the dreaded typo.

Too many companies still leave the user experience to chance, causing visitors to click ‘back’ faster than you can say ‘abandoned cart.’

#2 It’s all about us

You know that guy in the pub who just incessantly drones on about stuff that relates to himself?

“Well when I was working for NASA…”

“When me and the wife went to Outer Mongolia…”

“Our daughter got chatted up by Brad Pitt on the bus…”

“For us, nothing beats the service you get from Lamborghini…”

A lot of brands are guilty of acting like him on their websites, giving it all the “I...Me...Us...Our.”

It’s a sad fact, but users don’t really care.

They don’t care about businesses, they don’t care about works parties and they probably don‘t even care if the company MD just met the Dalai Lama at a fundraising event to end world poverty.

(They maybe should on that last one, but it’s unlikely if we’re all honest.)

Banging on about yourself is the type of thing warned about on the first page of ‘Marketing for Dummies’ but yet is somehow still virtually the norm online.

Instead of being a pub bore, websites should be focused on the needs and desires of their customers.

#3 It’s all about advertising

How often do you just hang out on your favourite product’s website?

Do you find yourself aimlessly popping along to Converse, or checking in on what your old mate Dr Pepper is up to?

No, of course you don’t. You’re not weird.

Like everyone else, you go there when you need something, and if you don’t find it pretty easily, you go elsewhere. These days, there are a lot of elsewheres to choose from.

Websites shouldn’t be about advertising - they don’t exist to reel customers in - customers have already found their way there but they don’t stay for long if they’re faced with a barrage of sales messages.

Instead, the successful sites we encounter follow the ‘three Es’:

#1 They Engage users with interesting, useful content so that even if they don’t actually buy on this particular occasion, they will take away something positive.

This content isn’t advertising. It doesn’t come across like it and it doesn’t blend advertising in either. We’re all semi-consciously attuned to detecting and ignoring anything that has the whiff of a sales message about it.

#2 They Empower users by being a thought leader. If they learn something new, and their knowledge of the field is expanded so they make better, more informed choices, the brands helping them to do so are likely to benefit from it.

#3 They Enable users to do whatever it is they’ve come to that particular site to do. Making their experience painless leaves them feeling all warm and fuzzy about a brand.

#4 It’s all about the bells and whistles

Nobody’s ideal customer is a 12-year old time traveler from circa 1998 (once again, that is TWENTY years ago… I know, I can’t believe it either).

So sort of website bling, anything flashing, twirling or distracting is a no-no… Unless, of course, you’re the fabulously bonkers Ling, who turns the rule on its head to incredible effect with her hugely successful sensory overload of a car leasing website. There are exceptions to every rule!

Ling aside though, there are crimes against design just as heinous still being committed for the sake of ‘making it look fancy’.

First up, intro screens. It’s a golden rule that websites shouldn’t make customers wait. Don’t make them wait while a site loads, full stop, but in particular they shouldn’t force them to endure 30 seconds of needless animation spluttering into life at the beginning of their encounter.

Users don’t like being ushered about by a tour guide either. Google does a fairly good job of dropping them in on the page that most meets their needs, and their movements might be fairly random. Sites that make them follow your raised umbrella around the site, with an itinerary set in stone, only cause your customers to sneak off to the pub.

In a similar vein, getting creative with navigation is rarely a good idea.

Users have certain expectations about how to get around a website (the navigation lives at the top, as a general rule) and there’s not a need to rock the boat and make them try and figure it out.

It doesn’t make anyone seem arty and avant-garde, it makes customers give up trying.

#5 It can all be done in-house

There’s a saying in the legal profession that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.

It’s amazing the number of businesses that will outsource some professional services like accounting without batting an eyelid, but think they can just knock up a website themselves.

Now we might be a bit biased, but using a professional design company means getting expert, objective advice from people whose whole job is doing this.

The ‘objective’ bit is key here. Like it or not, businesses know themselves too well. No-one can look at their own blood, sweat, and tears as an outsider, and what seems obvious from the inside probably won’t to a customer.

A professional company definitely won’t allow their client to make the innumerable basic howlers that all first timers commit.

And the daftest assumption of them all?

Pop back next week when I uncover five more of the daftest assumptions I’ve witnessed in website redesigns, including the daftest of them all.

In the meantime, if you spot anything I’ve missed here, why not get in touch and let me know so I can include it in the round-up?

Danny SomekhComment