Does The Website Serve The Customer?

March 2, 2006

A great website should be like a good butler, I learned from an old book, Designing from Both Sides of the Screen. Butlers anticipate needs and work silently, as a good website should.Since most of the book isn’t worth reading unless you are going to design a computer application, here are the web highlights. Note that I’ve updated them for 2006 and made them specific to the web only, so apologies to the authors for the liberties I’ve taken:

Respect physical effort: Don’t offer the visitor product if you don’t have it for sale yet. Don’t ask the visitor to click if she doesn’t have to – clicks are sacred. Remember where the customer was in the clickstream (so if they put something into the shopping cart, and decide to continue shopping, return them to where they were before they visited the cart). Remember information the visitor tells you for the entire site visit.

Respect mental effort: Don’t give people too much to look at or they will look at none of it. (This is especially true for on-site search.) Make common tasks prominent. Give feedback and show progress (“You are on step 1 of 2.”) Follow conventions even if you don’t love them (for example, an asterisk like this * has come to mean, “required field”. Companies who try to violate that convention have trouble getting conversions.) Start with smart preferences instead of asking for them all the time (bargain shopping sites should start with search ordered from cheapest to most expensive – a smart preference for a bargain site.)

Be Helpful: Accept information in many formats (can’t we be a little more forgiving in the way we accept telephone numbers and credit cards?) When you can’t accept many formats, tell people ahead of time. Don’t make people re-enter all their information after they enter one piece of it wrong (doesn’t it drive you batty to fill out a whole form and have it come back empty because you forgot the three-digit code on the back of your credit card?) Don’t blame the customer. Request only the information you absolutely need. Explain in the customer’s language, not yours.