Monday, June 1, 2009

Avoid ruining your CX with poor form design - an invaluable resource

You can spend all the money in the world on a fabulous design for your multi-platform, multi-channel customer experience but if you skimp on the order form then you could be throwing good money, and good customers, down the drain.
There are some very basic rules for designing good forms, that will help your customers order products or services easily, without pain and frustration. These are my top ten tips:
  1. Chunk the content into logical groups. There is nothing more off-putting than a massive long list of questions with no order or categorisation.
  2. Save information. Allow customers to confidently navigate between pages, saving information that they have spent time entering. For longer more complex forms allow customers to save and retrieve their forms at a later time.
  3. Strip your form down to the bare basics. Only ask questions that are relevant to your customer. Avoid legacy questions that keep databases happy but frighten off customers.
  4. Facilitate form filling with good visual design. Carefully consider all the visual elements of alignment, grouping, icons, visual clutter, button placement etc
  5. Consider the interaction style for both expert and novice users. There are those who will be highly keyboard driven, using tab and enter to complete a form and there will be those who will not let go of their mouse. Design for both.
  6. Keep supplementary text to an absolute minimum. Ask yourself if your customer can complete the form without those three paragraphs of text at the start of the page and then be ruthless and cut it out.
  7. Develop a meaningful help system. Consider the three level of help: 1) inline contextual help (related to and in close proximity to a specific field); 2) section/page instructions (giving general instructions at the top of a page or section); 3) customer initiated form help (a more comprehensive guide to filling out the entire form which the customer can access if and when they need more information.)
  8. Write meaningful error and success messages that allow users to recover gracefully and know what they need to do next
  9. Provide clear sign-posts for the next action. This includes providing a progress bar, progress instructions and clearly distinguishing between the primary action button e.g. Submit or Next and the secondary actions such as Back or Cancel
  10. Test and reiterate your designs with customers - you never get it right first time no matter how many times you've designed a form
This list is by no means exhaustive. For more extensive research check out the excellent resource: 'Web Form Design - Filling in the Blanks' by Luke Wroblewski

Friday, May 22, 2009

Can there be too much customer in customer experience?

Most of my career has been spent trying to convince organisations that they need to listen to their customers in order to improve their business. Interestingly I have found recently that I have needed to remind organisations that they need to balance the needs of their customers with their business. Something I thought I would never hear myself say!
One of the first rules that I learnt about design - is don't do it in a vacuum. That is you need to find inspiration and stimulus for design away from your desk. You also need to talk to other people, especially the people that will be affected by your design.
Primarily you need to consider the people who will use your design; so ideally you'll want to consult with them to understand how they might use it and what their pain-points are around what they use today in order that you can improve the experience of using the design. However for some user-centred practitioners this is where they stop; they fail to involve any other interested parties.
This can pose a real danger when the designs are then presented to the business and the business says 'OK, well that might be all well and good for the customer but it's going to cost $1m+ and as there is little value/return on investment for the business then we're not doing it.'
Or equally when the designs are 'thrown over the fence' to the development team who then place the pretty document on a shelf for prosperity because they can't implement the design.
I certainly don't want to be constrained by technology or business factors when I am trying to innovate, but I do believe that there should be a balance between 'desirability' (customer requirements), 'viability' business requirements and 'feasibility' (technical requirements).
In my experience the best results come as a result of timely collaboration between the three.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

World Usability Day - November 13

World Usability Day 2008 is quickly approaching on November 13.

The theme for this year is transportation. The Sydney Chapter of UPA (Usability Professionals Association) is focusing on how to improve the design of transport systems and
infrastructure to:
• Better support the people that use them
• Move towards more sustainable forms of transport in the future

Here’s what’s on and how you can get involved:
• Guest speakers / transportation experts
• Interactive workshops & discussion questions
• Photo and design exhibition highlighting transportation challenges
and solutions

Cost: FREE!!! Just come along - no registration required
Who: Everyone is welcome (including students, usability professionals, people who work with or use transport)
When: Thursday 13 November 2008
Where: University of Technology Sydney
More information:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Speaking in Tongues

“Speak the users language” is a great design principle. One sure way to put customers off is to litter your communications with marketese, legalese, corporate and tech speak. You might as well be speaking in a differing language.

However of equal importance is learning to speak in business language and pitching your case at the right level. You can bet your last dollar that general managers and senior stakeholders will clamouring for the door if you start preaching about the intricate usability benefits of a specific drop shadow treatment on a button control.

Anyone reading this, will probably at some point in their career, will have experienced the uphill struggle to convince clients or colleagues about the benefits of taking time to develop a usable product. But we need to learn to practise what we preach in all dimensions. We need to take time to understand the business need, the perspective of the business manager and be able to talk to them in their language.

For a long time we have evangelised about the need to talk to users and I think that there has been a propensity amongst some practitioners to go to far in the customer direction. Of course we need to talk to customers to create good customer experiences, because without happy customers there is no business. But equally if we don’t help to improve the business situation, then especially in these financially uncertain times, then it could very well mean the end for the business.

You need to learn to understand and speak strategy. How will what you do in customer experience design contribute to achieving the strategic or project goals? You need to constantly ask yourself value you are adding for the business as well as the customer.

When you are talking to senior managers you need to always be able to tie your efforts back to their direction and measures of success. Ask if there is a justifiable business case? At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter if you’ve applied Fitt’s law correctly if your design is not facilitating the business objectives to increase sales.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Assuming the Customer Experience

I work with a lot of blue chip organisations and the one trend that has been increasingly noticeable over the last couple of years is how executive level strategies are driving increased profitability through customer experience improvements. They wax lyrical about how projects need to be customer-centric and how operationally and tactically they need to put the customer in the centre of everything.
This is great right? Well, it’s a step in the right direction. However, the problem I’m finding though is that while the like the big management schools are instructing the executives to improve their customer experience no-one has truly defined what that means or how to go about it.
At worst most of these organisations do nothing more than pay lip service to improving customer experience. Just because you mention the phrase ‘customer-centric’ in a power point deck to senior managers and include a slide on customer segmentation does not in any way mean that you are being customer centric.
So here’s my definition: “The customer experience is the process of interacting with systems* which stimulate emotions and shape perceptions to influence consumer behaviour.” (*systems can be people, processes and machines)
To be truly customer-centric and to be able to influence consumer behaviour you have to stop presuming to know what’s best for your customer and actually engage them before, during and after the process. That mandate should be applied at all levels of business from the people on the front line who are responsible for sales through to the people who plan the delivery projects that will affect the way yours customers interact with your business.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What do comics, UX and a new Google browser have in common?

So I stumbled across today and loved it. Well in my opinion it's hard not to like things that Scott McCloud does.
One of the reasons this resonated is because it's a technique I recently used that seemed to work really well. I was working with a client to analyse the current customer experience with a view to see what opportunities there are for improvement. When it came to presenting to the stakeholders I was really keen that we presented the full story. The problem of course is one of attention economics. To give the full details of what I found would have produced a tome of a document that would have gone unread, gathering dust on some exec's desk before it was replaced by the next consulting organisations tome. Also being a fan of Tufte and Presentation Zen I was somewhat loathed to try to condense the message into a few bullet points and risk loosing the impact of the message.
So I produced a comic strip of the current experience. There was 12 comic-styled images that told the day in the life of a customer during their interactions with my client's brand in storyboard format.
They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, so imagine what 12 little picture did to explain the situation? Without investing hardly any time at all the execs and stakeholders were quickly able to identify with their customers and see the pain points and opportunities for improvement. What's more it was an easily portable document which the stakeholders could use to communicate both up and down the command chain and make 'stuff' happen.
I particularly like Scott's illustration of the development of 'chrome' for the same reasons. It talks to everyone, not just techs and devs and it doesn't require much time investment to understand and you get multiple viewpoints in the one story.
Yey to comic to the comic store to buy more

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I’m just going to take a slight aside from the usual UX content and wax lyrical about words. It’s interesting how with every new life-style revolution a plethora of new words are invented to describe new world terms because the old-world syntax and etymology is no longer sufficient.
The atom-world markets are straining under the pressures of the credit crunch, yet judging by the gazillion articles I read or presentations I attend that evangelise about emerging trends, it seems there is a boundless energy and a relentless stream of new ideas for improving your real and second life, online. And with this information revolution a new vocabulary is born.
We’re all familiar with Google and how it’s a brand, verb, noun and adjective all at once, but I thought I’d share this short collection of words and phrases that I’ve come across this last two weeks:
• Digital Native – someone born AI (after internet)
• Digi-audience – a bit lame but you get the gist
• Crowd Clout – folks get together to negotiate discount or apply pressure
• Meetups – atom-world get togethers by online groupies
• Meatspace – real world
• Atom (prefix) – something real-worldy
• Infophrenics – data junkies
• Sofademics - exceeds the couch potato, they’re pop-culture junkies
• Sponges – absorb but don’t contribute to UGC
• Digital Consumer Activists – these guys got bored with Fantasy Football, they bought a real team!
• Attention Economics - it's all about your eyeballs baby

So then back to UX, what interesting challenges will arise when designing for the digital native? How can we get better, smarter, bigger and quicker in the ways that we talk to and collaborate with our digi-audience? I’d be interested in your thoughts…