OPINION: Sometimes UX is just the right thing to do

20 Apr 2013

Gareth Dunlop, owner of user-experience consultancy Fathom

The discipline of user experience (UX) has matured in recent years, and as a result, we UX zealots have become increasingly adroit at carefully defining the framework for our projects.

We believe passionately in the objectivity of good design allied with the scientific and analytical rigour which naturally follows this premise. Subsequently, we are well versed in defining success in terms of conversion ratio, goal completion, cost-per-acquisition for new customers, price of web traffic, efficiency of online channels and ultimately sales, margin, cost-of-sales and profit. In every new project this vocabulary quickly dominates discussion and becomes the focus of every project member working towards the aim of improving these KPIs.

And this is as it should be.

However, we must never be so narrow minded as to express success purely as those things. Sometimes, good user experience is just the right thing to do.

It won’t improve your conversation ratio. It won’t encourage your customers to buy more things. It won’t impact your average order value.

It will simply give your customers a better experience on your website.

Probably in a small way that is either impossible to measure or simply too expensive to measure.

Experiences in user experience

We have encountered this very dynamic in a few separate projects in recent months. We’ll blur the detail to protect the innocent and the guilty but not so much as to lose the gist of the story.

One client sells products for which upsell is important, and we pondered two important considerations. The first was, if a customer selected two items independently and clearly intended to buy both, if they were available more cheaply by buying them as a bundle, should we tell the user? We decided yes; as the user moved towards the checkout process, the site would automatically let them know, “you’ve bought x and y separately at a combined cost of £10, we can bundle them together for £8”.

We also wondered should the user be able to edit or delete items from their order as checkout progressed. This would almost definitely lead to some additional cart abandonment, it may take the user backward rather than forward in his or her user journey, and whatever the reasons for doing it, pushing the user firmly towards the goal couldn’t possibly be argued as one of them.

In the end we advised our client to include edit and delete functionality throughout checkout, for no other reason than that it helped the user.

Another customer runs a really successful well respected B2B professional services agency. Nearly all of that customer’s web traffic comes from branded search (users using Google to specifically search for a company by its brand name) and goal completion is really high on the site. The customer runs a really good business and the website fulfils a pre-sales function, simply softening prospects, as they consider buying services from the firm.

We observed in analytics that users were frequently returning to the homepage as they moved from case studies to the CVs of senior people to corporate background. In other words, the menu and the calls-to-action on the site were quite disjointed. We made our recommendations and the customer updated the company website accordingly.

The goal completions haven’t risen, nor have the number of people completing the customer’s enquiry form. What’s more, I don’t suspect they ever will as a result of these changes. All we’ve done is just make the lives of users that little bit easier.

The key philosophy which underpins the discussion is that user-centred-design (of which UX is part) is first and foremost a state of mind. It is a means of conducting business, a way of understanding the world, which, at the highest level, guides business strategy and marketing strategy and at a more granular level has an important bearing on digital marketing strategy and website planning. It is about business leaders and marketing leaders not starting with the question, “what do I want to say?” but with the question “what does my customer want to know?”

It is about having the humility to start with the customer and work backwards.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their websites and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Love Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Irish Times, Ogilvy, MD Golf and Web Recruit.