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Larry Marine

Is Your Website Bass Ackwards?

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Ass BackwardsI often give UX design presentations to small networking groups of 10-30 people. I like these more intimate groups where I can interact with folks more directly and begin speaking with my name badge inverted. Invariably, someone will ask me if I know that my badge is upside down, to which I respond by looking down at it and replying, "It looks right to me."

Most websites (probably even yours) look fine from the company's perspective, but are bass ackwards to the users.

Vanguard Mutual Funds used to have an inverted UX design for their High Net Worth site. It forced private investors to visit four or five separate and disconnected silos of the website in order to determine their investment balances and performance.

For instance, if an investor had a retirement portfolio that contained mutual funds, bonds, and stocks, they would have to visit three separate sections of the site, write down the values of each investment vehicle, and then add them all up to determine the current value of their retirement portfolio. A task made even more cumbersome if you had several portfolios, such as spouse's retirement, a couple of college funds, saving for a vacation home, etc.

Vanguard saw themselves as five separate business units and built their website to reflect that perspective. Individual investors, on the other hand, didn't care how Vanguard saw themselves, they just wanted to know when they could retire. The original Vanguard site had nice graphics and lots of data, but it served the business better than it did the customers.

Redesigning the Vanguard site allowed investors to set up various portfolios and investment objectives, then forced the system to automatically calculate the values for each investment into the specific portfolios and plotted them against each objective to show if the investor was on track. This gave the investor a single dashboard that let them know if they needed to make any changes.

Another Fine Mess...

CustomInk Design Logo

An ecommerce site that is optimized for the business at the expense of the user is CustomInk.com. Yes, they are doing well enough, but their interaction design is vulnerable and the competitor that comes along with an improved interaction model could easily disrupt their success.

The user interaction flow of the CustomInk site is bass ackwards. The most emotionally charged aspect of the T–shirt design process is the user's logo. Once the user designs their logo, they are emotionally invested in the process, but CustomInk doesn't let users design their logo until the endof the process.

The CustomInk interaction flow reflects how T-shirt printers see their business and forces users to make numerous uninteresting choices regarding type of shirt, long or short sleeved, brand or quality of shirt/material, and color before ever reaching the logo design studio.

Worse, yet, when the user gets around to ordering sizes, they may find that some of their choices aren't offered in the sizes they need, and they must then go back and make changes to their selections, such as colors, type, quality, etc. This can sometimes be a recursive interaction requiring several passes through the site. Talk about a buzzkill.

CustomInk Flow

A more successful approach engages the user right away with the emotional investment of designing their logo. Once the user is emotionally tied to the process, asking what sizes they need, color palette, and choosing the shirts seems less cumbersome.

This allows the system to do more of the work for the user and only offer choices that match the user's established needs. For instance, only showing shirts that meet the color and size criteria set by the user, so they can't make a mistake.

Improved CustomInk Flow

This improved approach displays the user's logo on the shirts during the rest of the process so they can see the effect of shirt type, color etc. This increases the emotional investment and confidence that the end product will meet the user's expectations. It also affords upsell opportunities to suggest things like additional printing on the sleeves.

Walk a Mile in Their Moccasins

Avoiding a bass ackwards etisbew is as simple as understanding the user's desired outcome, finding the most emotionally charged aspect of the process, and then leveraging that emotional investment early in the process to compel the user to complete the rest of the tasks. You get better results with the carrot than you do with the stick and this approach has more than doubled, tripled, or quadrupled conversion rates for various sites.


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