Mar 142011
 

Simple is Smart. We admire the simplicity of classic designs icons like Nike’s swoosh, Google’s home page, and Apple’s iPod.

So why do we do the opposite? Why do we make everything so complicated for our customers?

In each case, smart design stripped out the fluff and extraneous detail. Smart design may appear complex to achieve, but you can do this easily. Find out how.

Improving makes it worse

Of course your natural inclination is to improve on what you, and your competitors, have previously done. This applies to everything you do – producing a gadget, a car, designing software,  a marketing piece, even just writing an email. You want to add some more sparkle, some new technical features, go faster stripes… You want to show off how your widget is better then any other widget ever made. So you add a little more, and a little more until it’s a complicated mess with long feature lists, technical terms that no one cares about, too many steps, and too many aspects shouting for attention.

So by all means improve your product, tinker with it, test it, get feedback, polish it but then bin it. Yes, bin it. Take everything you learnt, pare back to the essentials that the customer really cares about and build your 2.0 version from scratch. It will be much better than your “improved” version.

Improve then restart

Less is more

The larger your company is, the more pressure you will face to add more “stuff” to your product. Not only do you have more colleagues with more opinions, but each internal team will want a little extra added for their aspect. This is why small companies are nimbler. Fewer staff means they each have to focus on getting their own job done – they can’t spend time checking what colleagues are doing. It’s easier for smaller companies, but they too need strong leadership to strip away the feature list, the techno-babble, and the fluff to focus on the real value.

Less is smart

 

Don’t make me think

When you go to a web site, you’re almost always looking for some specific information or you want to do something. You’ve probably visited  hundreds of web sites and been confronted with too much information. Almost everything there is not what you’re looking for. The goal of your quest is probably there, masked by the information deluge or hidden behind some navigation. You sure don’t have the time to play hunt the needle in a haystack.

Research repeatedly shows that website visitors will move on within 8 seconds if they are not convinced this web site is the one they want. “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug is a fantastic book that explains how to make your website as simple as possible, and why doing this is so valuable.

When you find a web site that is clean and simple – it’s a huge relief. Each step is obvious, you find what you want easily. And you know what to do. Not wasting mental energy on working out how to use a website, frees you to do what you came to the website for. This immediately puts you in a positive frame of mind – which is where you want your customers to be when they visit your website, read about your products, research your services… So make it really easy for your customers to take the next step.

Make it easy

 

Outside In

To make it easy for your customers you need to understand

  1. Their objective – what they want to achieve
  2. The language – how they express and think of that objective

Most companies are not doing this, but it’s really easy to understand your customers. Your customers are already telling you, you just need to listen to them.

Listen to customers

Analyse:

  • Search terms entered on your web site, in search engines, on forums, blogs, comments, and tweets…
  • Requests from customers – emails, letters, phone calls…

Use these instead of using your inside-out perspective. Don’t structure or prioritize based on what you want customers to know and do. Discard all of your internal terminology, use the language, the phrases and words your customers use.

Apply the 80:20 rule. Pick off the top objectives, use customer’s terminology and make it really simple for your customers to achieve their objectives.

To take this to the next level, requires more work but is perfectly achievable. Dynamically respond to what your customers are trying to do and how they express themselves.

For example, a UK retailer had many retail outlets. They knew that most customers called them “shops” so they call them “shops” on their website. But they also knew that some customers were looking for “stores” so for those customers they changed the web pages, images and navigation to say “stores”. To determine whether customers were looking for stores, they checked if the customer was responding to a search ad that used “stores” or if the customer’s ip address was in US.

Another important method to understand your visitors objectives and language is your own search function, this is the perfect place to deliver content dynamically. Most search results pages offer little value beyond basic text matching. Instead aim for an intelligent set of search results that understands synonyms, echoes back customers’ terminology and can figure out the customer’s objectives using as much context as you can obtain (cookies, session tracking, ip address, browser, screen size).

Suppose your visitor originally arrived at your web site by searching for one of your products but used an unofficial name or incorrect spelling. You know they are using an Android device with a UK ip address, then they search for “downloads”. Instead of giving them every web page that mentions “downloads” you should make the top result a download/install button for the latest Android version of  your product.

Smart companies make buying simple

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