We started this website in late August, 18 weeks ago. It’s a learning experiment. We were two buddies, both web designers, who wanted to know more about web usability and user testing. We gave ourselves the goal of learning what we could by December 15th.
By my calendar, that’s tomorrow.
It’s also nearing the end of the year. And the end of the year is always a time for reflection and for taking stock.
Since we’re at the end of our original learning period, Newman and I felt it was only right to look back on what we’ve learned to see what the key takeaways have been.
We created a list of our Top 10 Key Concepts we feel we learned about building better websites.
This is a decent chunk of material to get through so we’ll be covering this topic for the next three posts. Today, numbers 10-6. On Friday, numbers 5-1. And on Monday, a podcast where we hash it all out. It’ll be fun!
10. Proactive vs. Reactive
The natural state of things is to be reactive. Reacting will save your skin if you are trying to run from a giant tiger leaping out from the jungle. In our modern times, troubling as they may be, there are no tigers. Death isn’t constantly at the door (and if it is, you’re doing it wrong).
Reacting has a down side though: the success of the reactor depends on the actor.
For a business owner, or really, any goal oriented individual, it’s a bad place to be.
Oh, it’s a comfortable place to be, but it’s not really how you want to be. Nobody has ever gotten their way because they were reactive. You don’t lose weight by not worrying about it. You don’t grow your business by only taking the business that comes through the door. It’s not a long-term strategy.
The advantage of being proactive is that you get to actually have a strategy. It’s chess, not checkers.
We talked about this as it relates to the small business owner back in September where we described an ideal initial meeting and how to create valuable monthly reports. This is important for UX designers because testing is inherently a proactive thing. It doesn’t happen in a reactive system. This is why oftentimes a cold wind starts to blow when the topic of user testing comes up. And it’s also the next key concept we ran into:
9. UX Testing Resistance
When told clients and business owners we know about UX testing, they generally respond negatively. “Watch people use our site and ask them stuff? Nah, I think the site is fine.” they would say. While we didn’t expect them to jump for joy, we did expect a little more… interest.
Why did they react this way? It’s because oftentimes it’s being introduced into a reactive environment and it rubs the wrong way.
I grew up playing the drums and I once got a piece of advice about how to play. The idea is that a drummer typically plays a little behind the beat or a little ahead of the beat. And either one is okay to do. The one thing you can’t do as a drummer is to shift from playing behind the beat to ahead of the beat mid-song.
That’s what introducing a proactive element into a reactive system is like. And its what accounts for a large amount of a business owner’s gut resistance to it. It doesn’t fit their work model.
And for the ones that it does, it’s still a matter of getting it incorporated into their system. So it’s a bit of an uphill battle, at least initially, unless you have forward-thinking clients.
Like most everything, the proof is in the pudding, and most businesses come around once they realize that user testing is a key component in raising their web site’s revenue.
8. The Power of Process
User testing fits best inside a larger structure of improvement and goal setting and seeking. It practically begs for it. The reason somebody would do a user test is because they plan on iterating their website. And once a website has been iterated, the change – good or bad – can be measured.
And that is essentially all the process you need. Once it becomes evident that sales/leads/revenue increases when improvements are made to the website and that the improvements are discovered through user testing – goal setting and allocating a proper budget for growing the web business will follow. The process will emerge. It has to. It’s how we make the website a better producer.
7. The Difference Between User Experience and Usability
It seems every sub-culture or community has weird semantic issues. When it comes to naming things, people aren’t very good. We like to borrow words that aren’t clear and then use them indiscriminately. As we jumped into the world of UX – which is short-hand for User Experience – we discovered a whole new vocabulary. One of the keys was understanding that User Experience was the umbrella, the super-system which includes Usability.
Usability is the technical side of UX. It is quantifiable and measured with tools like google analytics and A/B tests. User experience includes the qualitative and holistic experience. It’s harder to measure and includes emotions and feelings of the users. It is mysterious and an inexact science, but doing the ux techniques can reveal mistakes in a web design and improve sites.
6. The Critical Path
We first talked about the critical path back in late September in the post “Cut the Chute and Get on the Critical Path (to Profit)”. The concept is an easy one: design your website so that all of the energy is about moving a user from the beginning of the process to the end of the process. Define the pages in the critical process and boom, there’s your critical path.
But more important for me was the ability to finally know what’s supposed to go on a website.
That sounds like a shameful thing to admit: a web designer doesn’t know what’s supposed to go on a web site. But as a designer, we get wrapped up in the technical aspects of what we do. When we nerd out on our thing, we argue about technical arcana. For nerds, it’s not about solving business problems. That’s why there are business guys.
But business guys don’t know either. I’ve been building websites for a long time and it’s rare that a business owner takes ownership over the content and ordering of that content on the website.
They just leave it up to the nerds, and at least in the local market, nobody seems to specialize in knowing what goes where.
So the critical path is a big f-ing deal. Now we have a way to lay everything out: Do it in the way that makes the most sense to achieve the objective of the website.
Join us on Friday for #5-#1 on the list!