Customer-Centered Web Design: More Than a Good Idea | 4 | WebReference

Customer-Centered Web Design: More Than a Good Idea | 4

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Customer-Centered Web Design: More Than a Good Idea

Top Ten Signs That Things Are Going Badly

  1. "Customers? Our Web site is already intuitive and user-friendly."
  2. "We need to start doing some usability tests before our launch next month."
  3. "We can use [XML/SOAP/insert other buzzword technology] to fix that."
  4. "If you stop and think about how the interface works for a second, it makes complete sense."
  5. "How can our customers be so stupid? It's so obvious!"
  6. "Well, they should read the fantastic manual."
  7. "We don't need to do any user testing. I'm a user, and I find it easy to use."
  8. "We'll just put an 'Under Construction' sign there."
  9. "Shrink the fonts more so that we can put more content at the top."
  10. "We need a splash screen."

Nine Myths of Customer-Centered Design

Why are there so many organizations that do not embrace customer-centered design? In this section we will try to dispel the myths that keep companies from moving forward with customer-centered design.

Myth 1: Good Design Is Just Common Sense

If Web site design is just common sense, why are there so many bad Web sites? Thinking that design is just common sense leads us to think that we know what everyone needs and wants. Time and time again, however, this notion has been shown to be incorrect.

Web design teams always have to keep in mind that they are not the customers. They cannot always predict the way customers will think or act. In addition, they know too much about how the Web site works. They cannot look at it in the same way that customers will. They can avoid this problem by observing and talking to customers and getting feedback from them as often as possible.

Myth 2: Only Experts Create Good Designs

Although experts might apply customer-centered design techniques more quickly or conduct more rigorous analyses, anyone can understand and use these techniques. Anyone devoted to the process can create a good design.

Myth 3: Web Interfaces Can Be Redesigned Right before Launch

Sentiments like "we'll spend a few days working on our site's interface" or "we'll solve the interface problems after all the programming is done" are common. However, these ideas assume that the Web site has the right features and that those features are being built correctly. These are two very risky assumptions that can be costly to fix, especially if the Web site is near completion. Customer-centered design helps minimize these risks by getting constant feedback on designs so that the Web site will be in good shape the day it is launched.

Myth 4: Good Design Takes Too Long and Costs Too Much

Customer-centered design does add some up-front costs because you will be talking to customers, creating prototypes, getting feedback on those prototypes, and so on. However, customer-centered design can considerably reduce back-end costs—that is, costs incurred as a result of responding to customer dissatisfaction through help desk calls, returned purchases, general Web site maintenance, and so on. Evaluate the trade-off between spending more time and money at the start of your project and losing revenue over the long run.

Customer-centered design can even reduce the total development time and cost because it focuses on finding problems in the early stages of design when they are still easy to repair, preventing them from ever causing serious problems that are time-consuming and expensive to fix. Of course, your team will not always have the time and budget to do everything possible, so throughout this text we try to identify the trade-offs among the different actions you can take to improve your site. This book discusses many effective approaches that you can use to test your assumptions and

to test your Web site, to make sure that it is a winner in the long run.

Myth 5: Good Design Is Just Cool Graphics

An aesthetically pleasing design is an important part of any Web site because it helps communicate how to use a particular interface and it conveys a certain impression. However, graphics are only one part of the larger picture of what to communicate and how. Customer-centered design takes into account what customers want, what they understand, the tasks they perform, and the context in which they do things. Cool graphics by themselves do not address these issues.

Myth 6: Web Interface Guidelines Will Guide You to Good Designs

Web interface guidelines are a good checklist to ensure that the final design has no obvious minor problems. However, guidelines address only how a Web site is implemented. They do not address what features a Web site should have, the overall organization of the Web site, or the flow between individual Web pages. In contrast, the design patterns described in this book are generative. Using them will help you create solutions to your design problems. Furthermore, guidelines do not address the trade-offs of Web site development. Customer-centered principles, processes, and patterns, on the other hand, do take these issues into account.

Myth 7: Customers Can Always Rely on Documentation and Help

Documentation and help are important, but customers are unlikely to be patient enough to sift through a great deal of documentation just to use a Web site. Documentation and help are the last resorts of a frustrated customer.

Think about it this way: When was the last time you read a help page? Did you wish the design team had gone the extra mile in the first place to make using the site straightforward so that you would not need to read the help? Customer-centered design provides tools to see the world from your customers' eyes, to help you understand their worldview, and then to design Web sites to fit their needs.

Myth 8: Market Research Reveals All Customer Needs

Although market research is invaluable for helping to understand customer attitudes and intentions, it does not suffice when it comes to understanding customer behavior. Be careful also about using market research to create lists of customer feature requests. Implementing a laundry list of new features might satisfy customers who have asked for a particular feature, but all these features are more likely to get in the way of offering most of your customers a satisfying and successful customer experience.

What customers say in a market research study can be useful, but when it comes to interfaces, what they do is critical. That's why market research must be balanced with direct observation. A customer-centered design team uses a variety of techniques—from observations to interviews— to elicit true customer needs and focus on the areas that will be the most important for most customers.

Myth 9: Quality Assurance Groups Ensure That Web Sites Work Well

Software testing is key to ensuring that you are not launching a buggy, poorly performing site. Although quality assurance is important, its purpose and focus are different from those of customer-centered design. Software testing is often technology driven rather than customer driven. Expert testers try to make sure the product does what the specification says it should. This is different from seeing what happens with real customers working on real problems.

More importantly, Web sites often are tested only after being built. At that point it's too late to make major changes. Software testing can help you find and fix only coding mistakes, not major design mistakes. Customer-centered design, in contrast, focuses on quality from the very start—before anyone has written a line of code.

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