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Usability and no-one cares
2012-07-14: Usability isn't usually one of the top goals a client has for their website.
I think it should be. I think usability gives you a big advantage over your competitors. Think Skype, Google and the Flip video cameras.
Poor usability is everywhere you look, from not knowing how to operate the funky new taps in a toilet to your paper change coming out of the bottom of the new self-operating supermarket tills.
Here's a really bad example. These people operate a monopoly, so I don't suppose they care too much. But if they did, people wouldn't use this service twice.
My partner had a feeling in her water, and urged me to play the Euro Lottery.
I'd registered online before, so when I logged in it told me the bank card I had registered with them had expired. Great. That's not my goal, so I try to play the Euro lottery and it says I can't, I must sort out my card first (otherwise, I can't pay). Fine, but so, don't give me any other options until I've sorted my card.
So I enter all the details to change my card and then it says "ah, you can't change your card because you've a £1 balance. You can either spend that £1 or put it back into your bank account." "OK" I thought "I'll put it back in my bank account." "No, you can't do that because your card has expired." So, hang on computer system, you know all this stuff about me, and you know your own rules. So at the start, just say "you have to spend that £1 with us before you can change your card to pay for the Euro lottery".
So I buy a normal lottery ticket and it displays it onscreen for me and I print it. It comes out, not as a beautiful lottery ticket, but as six pages of fulsome text including all the menu options, lists of other games and so on. (It's basic web stuff to provide a different 'look' to the page that comes into play when you print.)
OK, I think I'm ready to buy those Euro Lottery tickets. "Your card has expired." Oh yes, so I re-entered all those details and yes, I managed to buy those Euro Lottery tickets I wanted.
I didn't want another six pages of printout, but I did want a printout so, being a web kinda guy, I did right click to see if the lottery ticket on my screen was being presented as an image. I viewed the background image. OK, no, that's just the background image.
OK, I'll just go back and try something else. "That page has expired".
Right. Now, I know my tickets are stored somewhere .. but where? After maybe four or five erroneous clicks around the site, I finally find where. I display my ticket. And yes, there's a print icon that allows me to print a sensible version of my ticket.
So all I really want to say is .. this is supposed to be a leisure experience.
If I had anything to do with anything, this would be a usable website. Now, maybe my websites might be more expensive than the other chap who whizzes them up in five minutes.
And maybe thinking through the user experience is a pain in the arse for you, if you "know what I want".
But take a look at this .. it's a beautiful website, who would not be pleased with it? Now try to use it. How is browsing the products for you? Frustrating? Is it helping you find that gift? Would you come back? Would you be a loyal shopper? Would you shout their praises to all your friends? You wouldn't .. I know.
In the much praised Just Giving page (for those reading soon after this blog is published, I was setting up my attempt to contribute to breaking the world record attempt for the biggest rhythm section (800 drummers in a room) for the MS Society) and it asked me for my story, my reason why. Being a writer, I crafted something motivational and beautiful and it said "max 50 characters". I don't get angry, but this got me close. Just Giving had just wasted 10 minutes of my life and rejected what I wanted to do.
When you are writing a web page and you create a data entry field one of the options you can choose is the maximum number of characters. It's been there since the beginning of the web. It takes seconds to enter.
It's good practice because if you're storing the data in a database, that database field probably has a length limit (so your data entry field should have the same). If you set it, you don't need to write the extra code to pop up and say "ah, 50 characters is the limit" .. the user simply can't type beyond 50 and soon gets the message.
It's good security practice too. Always ensure the data coming in is like you expect it to be. A cracker could break your site by throwing megabytes of data at its fields.
So what caused JustGiving to allow that code nonsense through?
I think most people have been hammered down into the tight control mindset. Break the budget and you're fired. Scores of home improvement programmes have given us the idea we can have a beautiful new bathrooom for £500. They don't follow up, though, to see how well it aged.
There's a different world. There is an option. Actually, I don't think it's an option, I think it's an imperative.
Look at that toy shop website again. It sells the same things you can get from Amazon and all the other sellers there and in Google shopping. So how's it going to compete? How are they going to get to number one in Google? How are they going to break through?
If you skip through this blog to where I talk about Chris Wood .. he's a folk artist who's won many awards. He broke me in half an hour.
You know if you take a half deflated balloon and squeeze it in your fist and it 'balloons' out between your fingers, finding some way out, any way. That's how I felt when I queued for his signature on a CD afterwards. My emotions kept bursting out, I could hardly talk.
He said "we don't have any pride any more as a country. Did you ever have bad food in a French restaurant? I'm not talking about Union Jack nationalism, I'm saying if you grow apples, grow the best apples you can grow. So I just try to do something I can be proud of."
We've been battered so much as a country, as a defence mechanism, we just don't care any more. Everyone else is everyone else, and we are just out for number one. That makes me really sad.
I believe in marketing as a force for good. Marketing finds a problem and solves it.
So we can solve this, with marketing.
How? We need some soul, some art, some humanity, some artistry, some pride and some quality in our websites so when people find us we grab them by the heart and they never forget us.
I'm looking at a retail website I've just started working on and 82% of its traffic is people who have never seen the site before. If the site and business was working, most of its traffic would be return visitors.
Maybe this website makes £1,000 a week. Great. Or just £100 a week. And you look at a new website and talk to a web developer and they quote £500 or .. I'm advising people who are looking more at £5,000 but all they are still doing is giving the client what they want.
Don't get me wrong, I'm into giving clients what they want, and I'm into budgets and reality.
But imagine the impact if we looked at your brand values to start with and worked out what you're here for. What you stand for. Who you stand against. Are you here for 'fun' or 'quality', 'style' or 'adrenalin'?
Once you've worked that out, what would you do, if you really stood for your values? What if you turned that up to eleven and really lived it? Really. Lived. It.
How great could your website be if we used every tool in our bag to deliver those values, find people who shared them, and built ourselves an army of loyal followers. People proud to wear our logo.
Yes, that's a much bigger, more expensive, more wrenching and difficult project than "a new website". But your new me-too website is not going to make a difference.
What I can do, if you'll let me, is make you a bright shining star.
And boy do we need some bright shining stars right now.
This stuff matters. We get one life. Talk to me.
PS. Only one number matched in those two Euro lottery lines

By John Allsopp
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