Categories
Design Digital Marketing Information Architecture UX

How a Website Manager Prevents a Tragedy of the Commons

Websites tend to be a meeting point where a lot of departments and stakeholders converge with no single entity preventing a tragedy of the commons situation.

Mismanaged content spirals out of control until the company is forced to spend tens of thousands to rehaul the site. Or, they deal with the crappy website and pay for it through staffing to address customer complaints and questions that could otherwise be addressed online. 

How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it for the past 10+ years, and as the average internet surfer I’m enraged on a daily basis by being unable to complete simple tasks on websites. You know, such as giving a company my money. That shouldn’t be hard!

Gerry McGovern recently discussed website mismanagement from the standpoint of environmental pollution. He describes one website weighed down with heavy print-quality (vs light-weight web quality) images as “like a filthy, rusty 25-year-old diesel truck, belching fumes as it trundles down the Web.”

McGovern says we need digital designers who “think about the weight of every decision they make.” Yes, digital designers should care, but they won’t care because they don’t have a stake in how the website performs. A website manager does. No one is checking to see that image libraries are clean, make sense and filled with optimized images. But they ARE checking to see if that digital designer has completed the landing page on time and to spec. 

I helped my husband relaunch his company’s physical therapy website that hadn’t been updated in so long it still had a button to check in on FourSquare. The company had a random corporate marketing person develop the website. The corporate HQ was simply hitting copy and paste on physical therapy sites from around the country and adding new images and copy, so when I inspected the admin area there were HUNDREDS of images from other websites in one mass library. 

The new website was on page 7 of Google and all of the SEO was simply copied over from a PT clinic in Oregon (we’re in South Carolina). We updated all of the SEO and wiped out all of the old images to make it faster. All of the images uploaded by corporate HQ were giant, print-quality sized images so we replaced them with images sized and saved for the web. Our efforts bumped the website up to page 1. 

What can we do? 

As digital marketers, I say that we own it! Maybe it’s not in your job description, but do it anyway. I’ve found that no one really wants to do it, but it’s a job people will gladly give you ownership. Once enough of us start doing it and showing the benefits it might end up being a commonly paid job. 

Categories
Food The Rich and Famous UX

Cumulative Layout Shift, Cancel Culture and My Love for Alison Roman

I fell in love with Alison Roman around 6:30am on a November morning in 2019. 

The bright screen on my phone helps me wake up, and I happened to navigate to the Times piece where Alison Roman shows how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in a tiny Brooklyn apartment. No longer do I live in a closet in a major city, but I often miss those days of trickery to cook dinner in a communal box kitchen. 

Watching the video made me almost nostalgic for the old days of traditional blogging when healthy living bloggers owned the internet, the days when it was actually enjoyable to visit a food blog. Cumulative Layout Shift as a ranking metric is LONG overdue, and Google’s update in 2021 can’t come soon enough in my opinion.

Since the push to monetize every digital action on the web, blogs have become truly unbearable. Rather than sticking around to read the loving words of a food blogger, I rush in to get a recipe and it’s full body combat trying to avoid the ads flying up, down and seemingly out of the browser. 

Alison Roman gets this (also, isn’t her name just cool? I refer to her by her full name because it’s fun.) She recently posted a non-recipe recipe, and I don’t know if she did this because she, too, becomes enraged when visiting food blogs or if she’s busy being fabulous like the rest of us. 

She was recently embroiled in a bit of cancel culture due to some comments she made that were disparaging toward her fellow female celebs. Well, she apologized for it and went above and beyond in her apology, vowing to respond to any email her fans sent her about how she can do better.

I wanted to email her simply to get an email back and tell everyone that Alison Roman emailed me. Years ago, David Sedaris emailed me after meeting my aunt, who told him I could never afford to attend his readings. He asked for my email and invited me to a BBC recording of his latest work!! DAVID SEDARIS EMAILED ME. From like, a personal gmail address. I also got an email from Sam Sifton once because I light-heartedly complained that he’d implied whiskey was a male pursuit. Didn’t matter what the exchange was, SAM SIFTON EMAILED ME. 

Anyway, I didn’t email her. I certainly wasn’t going to comment on her slip of tongue, because everyone makes mistakes and unlike most people, she handled hers with grace. I sat nervously for days, weeks while she stepped back from social media. I feared that she’d be canceled forever, and end up alone and depressed in her apartment like poor Al Franken. Thankfully, she seems to be doing OK. 

And, yes, I made her caramelized shallot pasta because well, it looked amazing (it was) and when Alison Roman says jump I jump. 

Categories
Design UX

A note on users and the people who interact with your website

One of the many things that’s made Disney so successful is how they’ve effectively removed any mental association of money with the purchases their customers make. You don’t pay with cash, and now you don’t even pay with credit cards. Rather, you get a super fun Mickey band for your wrist that you can tap on anything and it’s yours! It’s a powerful technique, and it works.

I often think of this dissociation technique when I hear people discuss other human beings who use the products they’re trying to sell. In my case, I am referring to websites and “users.” People are not people in the Web world. They are faceless, nameless users that you don’t associate with real human beings. This is a problem!

It’s not a purposeful technique employed in the same way Disney employs it to make more money, but the effect is there nonetheless. Words and associations matter, whether you’re using them to purposefully drive profit or carelessly using them and succumbing to unintended mental gaps.

Calling people “users” doesn’t as easily allow you to design for the people who are going to be interacting with your digital landscape, whether it’s your website, ad network or social media. Your “user” is someone who can’t figure out how to navigate your site, and instead of blaming the company they blame themselves for not being smart enough. Thinking of people internalizing ineffective, poor design in this way is heartbreaking.

I prefer to say “people” or “customers,” which has the connotation that these are people who are engaging in a transaction with what you’re creating. People are not simply using your website. They are giving you their time, data and money, and that’s a big deal worth correctly identifying.

Categories
Design Digital Marketing Information Architecture UX

How to redesign a landing page: why you should initially say no

Ever tried to buy something on a website but it was so badly designed that you couldn’t figure out how to give them your money?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the average website is a pile of reactionary, incoherent content. A lot of content on sites was posted simply because there arose a need somewhere at some point to post an asset or alter a design, and it was done with no regard to the ecosystem it was entering.

Web designers and marketers should initially say no to design requests and first ask why.

There are probably 1.3 million articles on the web about how to redesign a landing page, so why am I writing this? I’ve found that a lot of design and marketing how-to articles are talking about some fantasy world where everything is perfect and everyone is super excited about following a process.

What about all the companies that have no process and live firmly in the Wild West of the web? And no, I’m not blaming or even criticizing these companies. Websites are a beast. A big, fat, hairy beast that is extremely hard to control once it’s gone rogue (which it does in a hurry).

The truth is, not every company can afford a fancy web agency full of bearded white guys sipping cold brew laced with activated charcoal. In a lot of regards, they don’t need to.

Hiring a strong digital designer adept at asking questions and crafting a coherent architecture on your site will go a long way.

As a digital designer, you should be asking questions like this at the start of any design request:

  • What is the #1 goal of this redesign? (you would be surprised how often this isn’t addressed)
  • What priority is this work?
  • When is the deadline?

From there, create an end-to-end journey map, starting with the routes your customers will take to arrive at the new page(s).

Reassess your flow chart and ask the following:

  • Where and how will customers enter this page or set of pages?
    • Email, direct mail, search? Explore all possibilities.
  • Will this page make complete sense to someone who enters laterally, say through organic search?
  • What contingencies and dependencies are there?

A flow chart/journey map will help you more easily identify even the smallest dependencies that could put your design on hold. Break the work into manageable chunks with their own deadlines.

You can’t design a page if you have no content. Look – I understand more than anyone how much joy you can get from using Back to the Future quotes as placeholder text, aptly named DeLorean Ipsum. But just don’t. Save yourself time and sanity by simply demanding content up front.

Start with a whiteboarding session that includes your copywriter and any other key stakeholders. Create a rough layout that you can combine with your flow chart and translate to a medium fidelity prototype using a tool like Adobe Xd. When you reconvene, it’s another chance to assess the flow of content. Your copywriter will then have a good idea of how the words will fit into your design.

All of these things were not things I knew how to do when I graduated with a Bachelor of Science. College gave me the skills to create smaller pieces of work, but I learned on the job how to connect all the dots and create coherent, usable designs.

Judging by the frequently chaotic state of the web today, I’m guessing there are many millions of people in the same boat! But I think this is a positive thing for digital designers – there is a lot of room for growth and to make a huge difference!

Categories
Design UX

UX Fail – Buying a Rug from West Elm

Even though I’m a digital designer and I know poor UX or inaccessibility is not the user’s fault, I still end up feeling like I’m the one who is stupid when I can’t figure out how to work a site. How unfair is that! With more major retailers losing court cases in battles over website accessibility, I’m wondering how much longer it will be until I can feel a real presence of user-focused designers on the web.

Preventing users from feeling stupid is my #1 reason for wanting to be a digital designer/marketer. Whether that’s in the form of being a UX designer, a front-end developer, digital marketing expert – those roles all have the capacity to change the web! It makes me particularly angry when I’m trying to do something simple and give a company my money, and I can’t figure it out.

Searching for a rug online has been an interesting study in usability among major brands. I wanted something specific: an 8×10 wool area rug under $300.

Why do I want a wool rug, you ask? Because my cat, Alan, is a jerk and he refuses to barf anywhere except on rugs. Wool is magical and nothing soaks into it. It never gets stained. It’s sturdy and resilient. One time Alan got pissed at me for leaving him alone for a long weekend so he pooped on a rug. I need resilience from my home products.

Lucky black cat

With West Elm, I immediately became irritated because I couldn’t figure out how to sort their clearance rugs. With loads of options, I figured there had to be a filter option somewhere. There is no option!! You have to scroll through an endless list of rugs with a clearance “tag” and a price range. To see if they even have an 8×10 in that style, you have to click the “quick look” link. Then you have to select the size. THEN you get to see the actual price, which ends up being out of budget. THEN if you want to find out if it’s wool, you have to click the product description, which takes you to the full product page. And screw you if you happen to forget to click to  “open in new tab” because then you’ll have to navigate back to the giant list.

Poor UX searching for sale rugs on the West Elm website

West Elm’s regular non-sale rug section is marginally better, offering a handful of filters (none of which are material). I can select a style and a size, but I don’t know if it’s wool until I click through a bunch of links. They decided for me that style is more important than material. “Luxe Shine,” what does that even mean on a rug??

When I searched Wayfair, the experience was totally different. Not only was I able to select every feature I wanted before I looked at any rugs, but I could select simply by size straight from the navigation if I so chose!

Good UX by Wayfair with rug filters on their site

I understand small companies not having the resources to invest in user testing or in-house digital design talent. But a pricey, higher-end store like West Elm certainly has the resources to conduct user testing on their website. Perhaps they have, and the rug section was overlooked. It almost feels insulting as a user when you’re trying to give your hard-earned money to a company, and they haven’t put much effort into helping you out.

There should be a “website feedback” section of every site. I would use it all the time as a customer (for negative and positive feedback – I actually went in person to visit a brewery simply because I was enthralled with its web design and branding). As a designer, that would also be helpful. Sometimes things are missed or things change. I’ve worked for a large company and I understand this. But I also understand the need to educate everyone on the fact that the web IS continually changing, and as a result, so should your site.