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.

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!

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.