Raphie Frank :: business artivist

Dollars & Sense :: Why User-Centered Design Matters

Imagine turning on your television to NBC and all you get is snowy fuzz. Better yet, imagine tuning in to NBC, but not only are stripes floating horizontally down the fuzzy screen, but you also have to take discrete, active steps to access the desired program. In essence you have to ask to watch the show you want to watch. But, “golly darn,” you’re thinking, “this is just as hard as trying to get that damn VCR to record back in the old days.”

Eventually, even if it’s a show you really want to see, what’s going to happen is you’re going to get frustrated and turn the channel or even turn the TV off all together and watch a movie, listen to music, go online, or perhaps, even, read a book? A book? This must be serious.

Think of it this way and you’ll realize that when you get right down to the brass tacks of it, the Internet is on some level really little more than a very big, user controlled, interactive TV broadcasting system, except that instead of, say the 300 channels you may get with satellite TV, there are literally millions of channels along with literally tens of millions, if not more, permanent, infomercial/virtual stores.

That’s a lot of competition compared to the old days of three broadcast networks and AM radio.

And what that means if you’re a premium or ad-supported content provider is that not only do your visitors have to like your programming, a hard enough feat already to achieve, but they also have to be able to find it and seamlessly interact with it. If you’re the equivalent of TV commercial/offline shop, the challenge is that much greater. Not only need you get people to your site in the first place, but you have to compete on price, make yourself appealing enough for them to want to buy your product, enable them to trust you enough to be willing to buy it, make it easy for them to complete the transaction, actually deliver the goods, and do so in a timely manner. Fail anywhere along the way and you’ve just lost a customer, perhaps forever.

After all, no longer need you go one town over to get that same bar of soap. Now it’s about 3 feet feet away max, or roughly the distance your ten fingers need travel along your keyboard in toto to Google another soap outlet and click “Do I feel lucky?”.

That’s a lot of pressure.

Now, given all this, you’d think usable design as a concept would be an easy sell. Every visitor who can’t find what he or she is looking for, or can’t accomplish a task for whatever reason, is a visitor who may not visit your site again, because there are just too many companies out there doing the same thing. That’s just common sense.

Yet, small and medium sized businesses , in particular, especially ones not solely reliant on the web for survival. are still well behind the curve when it comes to understanding the simple premise that, within the online arena, every decision, from “look and feel”, to placement and size of buttons, to shopping cart intuitiveness and technical functionality, is one with decisive bottom line implications. Even when the site is merely informational in nature, this fundamental truth remains.

Increasingly, the web is the first stop potential customers make before deciding in the first place if they want to do business with you, online or offline. An unpleasant or unimpressive online presence is, simply put, not a stimulating “call to action.” As such, a sub-standard online presence not only will not bring your company extra business, but may actually diminish it, a relative loss that a company may not even notice if it is growing rapidly.

What’s more, the stakes have increased markedly. It used to be that a satisfied customer told two people and an unsatisfied customer told ten. That was daunting enough. Now the satisfied customer still tells two people but the unsatisfied one tells, what, perhaps a half a million? In the truly user-controlled medium of the Internet, when your target audience feels your company is really off-base, it now has unprecedented means by which to fight back . Blogs, comments on blogs, emails, review and ratings oriented websites, even virtual sit-ins All these revolutionary feedback methods are at your customers’ disposal. It’s important that companies come to understand this sea change in consumer power.

And to invite that kind of negative, corrosive publicity; to create negative brand impressions from the outset; to catalyze a million potential Ralph Naders trolling the Internet? You don’t need an MBA to know that’s just not good business. Better perhaps not to have a website at all in the first place.

Again, that’s just common sense, or rather, dollars and sense.

June 14, 2006 - Posted by | Business, Design, Internet

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