Blog: Technology & New Media
Posted Oct 21, 2008 by in Technology & New Media

It’s Like A Good Suit

Microsoft Web Site 1994
Microsoft’s Web site in 1994.

I remember in 1994 when having a “Web site” was all the rage. It must’ve been an upwards sign of social status, similarly to when people were buying fake plastic cell phones and pretending to talk on them while driving, when cell phones were outrageously expensive.

Some companies had their very first Web site created on a free server (remember Tripod and Geocities?), or had one created in Front Page by their secretary just to “have one,” before anyone knew how money was going to be made on the Internet. That was understandable because business was underutilizing the new technology.

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Posted Jul 19, 2008 by in Technology & New Media

From The Internet Design God

With all the influx of Web 2.0 technologies and companies exploring and developing new ways do gather, organize and disseminate information, it’s nice to know that there are those who still appreciate good design and usability. Business Week develops the 10 Commandments of of Web Design for the 2.0 crowd.

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Posted Apr 14, 2008 by in Technology & New Media

The Business Cost of Bad Design

I’ve been a long time fan of usability expert Jakob Nielsen, a user advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group who helps companies design human-centered products and services. Jakob’s blog post explores which of four design mistakes takes the prize for costing the company the most money? He says “bad design costs a company money, no matter how small the site.”

In my experience as a Web designer, I’ve seen companies who are more interested in tooting their own horn through their materials and Web site with their own personal preferences instead of listening to their customers and paying attention to making their lives simpler. Sometimes it takes a little common sense and a step back to really see what  customers are needing.

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Ceci N’est Pas Une Annual Report

Coca-Cola Annual Report Image

I get frustrated easily. When navigating an online annual report, I usually either get lost or I need to upgrade my Flash player or I am supposed to download a PDF. It’s not easy to figure out. Google the phrase “online annual report”, and you get a list of PDFs. Why call it an ‘online annual report’ if it’s really only a PDF version of the printed one?

So many companies have been publishing PDF versions of their annual report, and it’s good for many people to have online access. Acrobat Reader has the capability to search text and tags, as well as the ability to be seen by most search engines. But it’s still not an online annual report.

To me, an online annual report is viewable online and built with good ol’ hyper-text markup language (HTML) and cascading stylesheets (CSS), not a full-Flash site or a downloadable version of a printed report. Meaning, when you open your browser window, you see the information there, not in a reader or plug-in. An accessible annual report.

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Let Them Choose Their Own Adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure Book Cave of Time

Because your online customers are facing impossible deadlines and mounting interruptions during their day, they’re looking to make the most of their time. They want the information quickly, with little effort, and the smallest need of brain power to get it. They want value – meaning not only the best bang for the buck, but rather the best bang for their time, money (because time is money) AND thought process.

How can you save your customer some precious time? Let them control their own path. Don’t steer the brand story, let them create their own non-linear experience. Remember “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? Every ending was different and allowed the reader to decide which path to take, yet all the stories were still related to the overall theme. Your Web site can do the same. Giving them control and access to what they need (information) in the way they want it (choices) helps build value and your brand.

The scenario I’ve used to help my students tackle the task of information architecture is to imagine that someone has five minutes to run into a drugstore and grab a tube of toothpaste. How would you organize a brick-and-mortar store full of 80,000 different products to help someone to find toothpaste? We’d make products easy for anyone to find and implement the same strategy when developing Web sites. Some people want to find and browse the toothpaste aisle (by category or suggestion) and others want to ask someone directly (by search). By allowing the user multiple ways to find something, we help them create their own brand (i.e. shopping, browsing, interfacing, etc.) experience.

Use these methods to help save them some of their valuable, irreplaceable time.

  1. Simplify: Try simplifying the content on your Web site in a way that is easy to find by developing an intuitive system. Create content categories that make sense, design a visual system that has meaning, or organize the information to follow your customers’ search process.
  2. Explain: Make it clear to them what you are selling. Give them the pertinent information they want–not too little and not to much. Boil it down to only what they absolutely need, and then humanize the verbiage and format it to be easily scanned. Product profiles may need multiple photos, descriptions, sizes, and how the product can be used. User reviews can be an added benefit as they help provide personal opinions about the use and durability of the product. Industrial product specs and SKU numbers may just confuse people.
  3. Empower: Allow your customer multiple ways to access the information and find their way out. Cross-reference categories, make suggestions, offer breadcrumbs, allow customer lists and multiple ways to search.

Saving them time may also save you some time. When you simplify, explain and empower your Web site, you may also handle fewer product information inquiries, tech support calls, and abandoned shopping carts. Creating online value for you and your customers will help you build brand equity and customer loyalty for your business.

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