Sunday, November 26, 2006

This Website Sucks! How to turn your website into a brand builder.

By Tara O'Doherty
Principal, User Experience Practice

Yes, it is true that the Canadian digital marketing field has evolved greatly over the last five years, but we are still two-to-three years behind the US and Europe on the creation of usable and profitable interactive environments. Why is this the case? Two reasons - first, we are not optimizing our user experiences and secondly, usability integration as a method & process are still being perceived as expendable in Canada.

The good news is that there are two guiding principles that one can integrate in order to guarantee a successful and usable interactive experience. These guidelines are applicable for all interactive environments - whether it is an intranet, IVR, ITV, or mobile environment.

Success Guideline #1: Ensure that all of your development cycles, no matter how big or small, include the expertise of a true User Experience Expert (a.k.a. Usability Expert).

Now, don't panic, this is not going to cost you a fortune nor will it eat up your schedule. There are a variety of methods that your usability professional may recommend - and to be honest usability testing is not always the right answer. User experience methods include, but are not limited to: requirements gathering, persona/usage scenario development, user interface structure development (information architecture and wireframes), heuristic evaluations (a.k.a. Expert Usability Reviews), in-situ (field studies), and usability tests.

The key learning from this first guildeline is to understand that a true Usability Professional is not also a creative designer nor a programmer, or my personal favorite - someone who went to one Jakob Nielsen seminar last spring. Contrary to popular belief, usability is not 'common sense' - it's a science. Frankly, for one to be considered an expert in the usability field one must have several years (ideally 5+) experience behind them, specifically in user experience (usability) methodology and implementation, several redesigns & optimizations under their belt, and ideally a scholastic background to support their years of experience. Anything less and you'll be wasting money, time, and in the end risking your potential success. After all, you would not hire an interior designer to take the place of an architect when building a new home, would you?

Success Guideline #2: Enlist the aid of interactive wireframes and iterative usability tests every time to ensure that you eliminate potential usability issues prior to build.

So now that you have an expert who can predict human behavior and manipulate it to meet your business and communication goals (the true reason behind why you should hire a usability professional). you need to ensure that 80% of your audience can accomplish their primary tasks (use cases) at least 85% of the time.

How does one do this? Simply put, you follow an iterative design and development process that is user-centric.

What is iterative design? The concept of iterative design centers around the idea that design of a product/service/application should be done in repeated cycles where, in each cycle, the design is elaborated, refined, and validated by users/potential users, and the results of validation at each cycle feed into the design focus of the next cycle.

An iterative approach is imperative to your success as the number one reason most interactive environments are not running as efficiently and effectively as possible is that they lack a solid strategic structure and they are not being validated with potential users prior to launch. We in the field highly suggest you validate any and all User Interface (UI) Structures (information architecture, nomenclature, interaction design etc) before creative design or programming. Remember - 80% of usability (or lack there of) comes directly from the UI structure itself.

Insider Tip: Today most of us "in the know" have reaped the rewards of something quicker, smarter, and more cost effective then paper-based Visio wireframes. Update your iterative process by integrating rapid prototyping UX software - in the right hands, you'll be able to cut your UX development time, costs, and potential usability bottlenecks by up to 70%. It's also the only way to truly validate shopping carts and interactive forms/applications.

Every company with an interactive environment or application should be identifying and eliminating the usability bottlenecks prior to creative development and coding.

Ted Woodbery, Executive Director of MEdia Net over at Cingular Wireless in the US is a true believer in the process: "Given our tight development timelines, iterative user experience is mandatory to ensure we have enhancements to mobile products like MEdia Net and Cingular Video right before they are taken to market. These tests allow us to confirm with customers that our interfaces are intuitive and easy to navigate. If issues are discovered, fixes can be tested until the UI is ready to launch".

There is no time like the present to implement the iterative process. Interactive environments that are easy to use will reduce customer service costs, increase ROI, and increase overall brand perception. My recommendation for all Canadian companies would be to first benchmark their current usability success levels (efficiency, effectiveness, and user satisfaction) by running a usability test utilizing NIST (National Institute for Standards in Technology) and ISO (International Standards Organization) Standards. Once you know what is working and what is not working for your users, you can introduce the learnings from this article to optimize your environment in order to decrease user frustration and raise your success levels substantially.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly PR & marketing tips newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.


Anonymous said...

Thank You for sharing those info with us!

web design development is a very big business these days. Almost every company in the world is trying to make their mark on the web. Specially in today’s highly competitive world, where every industry wants to have competitive advantage in their respective field.
However creating a nice looking, functional web site is not very easy to achieve unless you have the right tools and workers to help you.

There are companies online that outsource webmaster service to do all the works from logos, content writing, SEO, Blogs.. and marketing, that could sure help other people who are thinking of setting up their own business web sites.

I hope this helps!

Mark Buzan said...

Thanks for the info dee!

I can't help but think you've been reading some of my other posts on using blogs to promote your business. ;)

Very clever of you but nonetheless true. I am in agreement that finding the right talent to get the job done is essential. I'm a believer in ''Do what you do best, leave the rest to others,''

Mark ''The Magnifier'' Buzan

P.S For other postings or ideas, please feel free to check out my Podcast that can be found on Action Strategies' website.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark! Thanks for acknowledging my comment.


Well, let's just say that this is my way of interacting with other people and helping them in my own little way as well.

Yes, there are some things better managed by other people who specializes in their own different fields. - Like you for PR. ;)