Article from TechyVent/Pittsburgh (http://www.dynamicimages.biz/usability/usability.html)
July 28, 2002
Powerful Internet Sites Control Visitors' Experience
Checklist for Effective Web Design

by Peter Longini

Sandra Stokey and Les Crowley
Most Business-to-Business Web sites ultimately fail, according to Forrester Reports.  They fail for a variety of reasons, but the most common have less to do with the company’s economic fundamentals than with a disconnect between the Web site’s designers and the site’s intended users – and sometimes from the company itself. 

In a July 25 presentation to the joint Point Park College/Carnegie Business Library noon speaker series,  Web site designers Les Crowley and Sandra Stokey talked about some of the pitfalls that have turned customers off and driven them away from ecommerce sites, as well as techniques for creating successful sites.  Foremost among  consultants’ concerns in creating a site is seeing it as a practical and goal-centered extension of the company’s public image, product marketing, and customer service functions.

“If you don’t plan out your Web site, if you don’t know exactly why you’re doing it and where you want to go with it, you’re wasting your time because you’re going to upset clients, and you’re going to drive them to your competition.  You’re better off not doing anything,” Crowley admonished his listeners. 

Web choreography

Orchestrating the user’s experience on the site is fundamental.
 
“Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Outback, Nordstrom’s, Kohl’s – every part of the experience from the time you pull up in the parking lot, to what you see on the outside, to the time you walk back out there, is all orchestrated at every step to give you a certain feeling, to make you want to buy certain things, to come away with certain information, or whatever.  That same approach to Web site development will create a more successful type of consumer marketing tool,” Sandra Stokey said.  “Your competition is just a click away.”
   
Scenario-centered Web design, a technique that Crowley and Stokey favor, helps to link the design of a Web site to its intended audience.  “You take the typical user, and do a use case scenario around that person,” Stokey said, referring to the step-by-step process of exploring a Web site.  “We’re going to lead them to this thing, and that thing.  At the same time we show them that product, we’re also going to up-sell them and cross-sell them to these other products, over here.  And if it’s not an e-commerce site, it’s still going to run pretty much the same way; you want to figure out when they get there, what are they going to look at on the page, what are they going to click onto, and how we get them to go where we want them to go.  You do that by storyboarding your outline.  It’s really not much more than a roadmap.” 
 
Among the considerations which can help designers to create sites that succeed:

  • User Experience. “It’s much the same as a brick-and-mortar world experience of using a product or shopping in a store,” Crowley said, noting that a person’s impressions from a single Internet visit can be both meaningful and lasting.  The approach to a Web site design should be to put yourself in the shoes of a customer entering the site for the first time and to create a favorable impression and positive experience for that person. 
  • Usability.  This means thoughtful and consistent navigation design, avoiding features that would require users to download new applets, providing current contact information, and making it easy for people to consummate their transactions on your site. 
  • Form Follows Function.  Use only those features which are appropriate to what you are trying to accomplish; resist the impulse to use glitzy devices just because they are novel.  Unless they are used properly, those features can distract and hinder the transaction process.  Focus your creative and technology efforts on meeting the company’s business objectives.
  • Determine Strategy and Scope.  Meet frequently with the client company to establish their business needs and marketing initiatives.  A technical and creative brief – essentially a roadmap to the appearance, features, and functions of the site – will result from those meetings.  It will become, to the Web designer, what a blueprint is to an architect in creating a building for a client.
  • Strategy/Infrastructure.  Decide what information will be presented on the site and how it is to be accessed by targeted users.  One useful device is a click-through prototype site which shows the logical pathways from one aspect of the site to another.  It can help organize content into a logical hierarchy and provide guidance toward the appropriate delivery technology.
  • Visual Design.  The appearance of the site should be deliberately crafted to support the client’s business objectives.  It should be created with the user’s ease of navigation in mind and its content should include guidance to the logic of the site’s layout.
  • Brand Extension.  The Web site should be a visual and interactive expression of the company’s personality.  The selection of graphic elements – including fonts, colors, logo treatments, etc. – should be done with a view to enhancing brand awareness as well as meeting the site’s business objectives.
  • Recycle Existing Assets.  Unless a company is brand new, it will almost certainly have material – datasheets, photos, brochures, graphic standards, and so on – which can be adapted to its Web site.  Recycling those materials not only saves time and money, it also helps to create a consistent corporate message.
  • Development Cycle.  Following a set sequence of steps in preparing a Web site can help assure that nothing critical has been overlooked.  Among those recommended: Develop a brief from client meetings, create and produce visual comps, create use scenarios, develop site architecture, develop and present prototype, collect finalized content from the client, build the site, do a quality assurance check, present the final site to the client, then deploy it. 
  • Client Involvement.  Continuous communication with the client is essential to keeping a project on track.  Create interim milestones, send frequent status reports, educate the client about the various technology options, and don’t assume you know everything there is to know about Web sites.
  • Proposals & Contracts.  Set down in writing the detailed project scope, milestones, responsibilities of both parties, payment schedules, and other references the client can contact.

How to ruin a site.  Web users know that there are many ways of frustrating, confusing, and irritating visitors to the point where they will leave with a worse impression of your company than before they ever clicked onto your site.  Among them:

  • Distract ‘em.  Put in blinking displays that draw attention away from the areas you want them to focus on.
  • Lose ‘em.  Use inconsistent navigation tabs, placements, and names. 
  • Confuse ‘em.  Put in “last updated” information on each page and leave it alone it for a year or two.  That way they’ll never know if you’re still in business. 
  • Block ‘em.  Put a dazzling flash movie upfront that requires them to download new software in order to see it and enter your site.
  • Baffle ‘em.  Don’t include current contact information that would allow them to get in touch with you.
  • Frustrate ‘em.  Put in lengthy transaction forms which, if they decide to hit their back button to add another item, will wipe out the form and dump their shopping cart. 
  • Drop ‘em.  Leave your old, dead links in place so that when they look for something, they’ll get a “404 Page Not Found” message. 


Published by
Copyright © 2003 Editor's Aide, Inc.. All rights reserved.