I sat through a web design working session a couple of weeks ago that is still stuck in my craw. After a few hours of describing a modern, web 2 looking website, complete with oversize form fields, minimal text (for some reason, designers don’t like text) smooth gradients, social buttons, and a video a brief conversation ensued:
Consultant: “How does the visitor know what to do?”
Design Dude: “Well, it’s the only thing they really can do.”
Consultant: “Other than go to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or watch a video.”
Design Dude: “So… what are you trying to say?”
Consultant: “80% of the interactive stuff leads visitors off the site to places where they will be distracted and never come back.”
Design Dude: “Its…”
Consultant: “The other 20% is what amounts to a big login box.”
Client: “You don’t like it?”
Consultant: “Not at all.”
Design Dude: “This is how you design sites now. This site is literally standing on 10 years of usability knowledge. It’s just like what Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, or Google does. It’s a totally modern UX.”
Consultant: “Really? Does ‘totally modern UX’ mean beautiful and confusing?”
Design Dude: “So what would you do?”
Consultant: “I would start with a simple question: what is it that you want the visitor to do? Then give visitors a way to do that.”
Design Dude: “But that’s not how Amazon does it.”
Consultant: “Let’s go back and look at how Amazon, Google, Twitter, Facebook or any of the others did it when they were new and growing. All of these sites are very mature now, and there are books written about how to use them. Let’s look at how they made themselves successful before the books were published.”
Websites do something for visitors. It doesn’t matter if it is a marketing site that helps buyers connect to a seller, a web service that helps people get part of their workflow done, or a blog that engages visitors in conversation. It’s easy to go look at sites that have made it and assume that aping them will work. Unfortunately most successful websites look very different during their startup and growth periods than they do when they have emerged to the top 200.
Fortunately, getting the design right at first time isn’t very hard:
Just make it easy for visitors to do what they are coming to your site to do.
Worry about making it super-smooth and applying the latest ajaxified, HTML5, CSS3 tricks after you figure out how to get people using your site.