Doesn't quite add up
Andy Budd, founding partner and MD of UK-based user experience agency Clearleft, who will be speaking at Tech4Africa.
Just think about the time and money most companies spend on crafting the user experience of a retailer or a hotel and match that with the time and money being spent on crafting the online user experience (UX). It doesn't quite add up, does it?
Websites often continue to be driven by technological capability
rather than by a design solution, and this needs to change, Budd believes, as more and more consumers make more and more of their purchasing decisions online.
If consumers actually enjoyed using a website, they might actually come back more often - that would be money well spent! Improved user experience design also offers companies a source of opportunity in terms of differentiating themselves from their competitors and in how they approach and build customer relationships. It can turn redefine also-rans into cool, user-centric brands.Smart solutions often simple
Some smart solutions to improving the customer experience online are often remarkably simple. T-shirt manufacturer Threadless.com
took stock control online. It warns customers if t-shirts are running low in a specific size. It creates a sense of participation and of urgency, especially since the t-shirts are often designed by and voted into production by community members. Simple but effective.
Shoe and speciality clothes retailer Zappos
meanwhile might not offer the best user experience online, says Budd, but it makes up for it with its dedication to customer service.
CEO Tony Hsieh often tells the story of how a group of vendors called Zappos as a joke and at his instigation to find out from where they can order pizza, and how the customer service rep found a list of local pizza outlets even, though Zappos quite obviously isn't in the business of selling pizza. They call it exceptional customer service. It is an important component of improving the overall user experience. The retailer was acquired by Amazon in 2009.Driven by design
Budd uses the original Apple iPhone as an example of a product that was not driven by engineers but by design. The iPhone was much less about technology and more about how people use it and Budd considers it a turning point for how business owners understand the value of superior user experience design. (Issues around the iPhone 4 suggests Apple still has some things to learn
about design and customer experience both.)
Generally, usability remains a problem on websites, partly because sites are often designed around a tech platform rather than around user needs, and partly because sites are often tested for user experience after they are built. Way too late, obviously.More strategic role earlier on
Budd argues that design takes a more strategic role early in the product development stage, and that human needs and desires should guide the development process.
Budd doesn't specialise in mobile consumer experience though obviously there is some cross-over with online. He prefers a specialist approach, he says, because mobile and web experiences differ, just as online and print differs.
Of course, a big problem for content sites, and this includes media sites, is that content is often repurposed for online from offline media, be it company brochures or glossy magazines. Reader habits differ online and off - few organisations keep this in mind.Rise of the content strategist
Budd notes the rise of the content strategist to help address this issue. Even micro-sites needs well thought-out copy to be effective: it's not a job for a designer - it requires a proper copywriter. Many sites remain a dumping site for PDF files and other old content, making it harder for consumers to find the information they need with ease.
Ultimately, the online environment is becoming a much more important part of the consumer's decision-making process. This is partly driven by social media and partly by increased access to information, as well as increased levels of Internet penetration into the middle- and high-income markets especially.
It means more thought going into consumer needs and wants, backed up by the appropriate technology, than what went into sites developed only a couple of years ago.
The Internet has transformed itself quite radically over the past couple of years and large-scale website upgrades and redesigns have fallen behind, especially with the onset of the last global recession. The times have changed - but has your website?Find Andy on Twitter at @clearleft.For more:
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