Websites and web applications often reflect the structure and culture of the organizations that created them. This makes sense since digital systems are typically built and supported by the internal resources.
The website ends up looking a lot like the company’s org chart. While it’s easy to understand why this happens, the burden this approach puts on the website’s users is not immediately obvious.
When visiting a site to complete a task, the user is looking for a scent of information; a trail that’s going to help lead them to the content they seek. Sites created from the organization’s perspective that fail to consider users’ mental model make picking up on this trial nearly impossible.
To make matters worse, the people who work within organizations and have the power to address these issues can’t even see the problem. It’s very difficult for people on the inside to identify where and why their users are struggling– like the Matrix, the problems are quite literally invisible to them.
In this article, we’ll look at two common pitfalls and two really effective ways to get an outside perspective to address them.
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Problem 1: Structure and Labeling
The labels used on a website’s navigation are key to helping users pick up on the scent of information. They’re coming to a site with a task in mind– check a balance, apply for a job, get information about a product. Their first clues about where to access that information come from the navigation titles – while the name of a department or a person’s title may be meaningful to employees, it’s not to a customer. A few quick examples to illustrate the point:
- A user coming to a site to apply for a job isn’t going to click on a navigation labeled “Human Resources” even though that’s the department that handles this task.
- Users are confused when product names are used as navigation– they’re looking for content to be categorized in a way that is meaningful for them. Product names rarely provide that kind of clarity and should be avoided in navigation.
Problem 2: Business objectives before user objectives
Obviously, organizations make their money selling a product or a service— but while sales is the most important business objective, it is not necessarily the reason users are visiting a site. They’re there to find information, understand what is being offered, or complete a task.
There is a school of thought that advocates for using prime screen real estate to promote or cross-sell services to users while they’re in the midst of completing a task. Marketers love a captive audience and (the thinking goes) they can’t/won’t abandon the site until after they finish what they’re doing.
Here’s the problem. Our research shows this tactic has the opposite effect. When marketing content interrupts the user while they’re in the middle of a task, they immediately become hostile to the message. By putting business objectives in the way of user objectives, the organization ends up serving neither.
Once they find the content or compete the task they came for, users receptivity to marketing content is greatly increased. It’s at this point that organizations have an opportunity to effectively deliver a message about other products or services their customer might benefit from.
All is not lost
At Crux Collaborative we specialize in helping organizations get outside their walls and design experiences from their users’ perspective. Let’s talk about a few ways we work with companies to evolve to a user-centered approach.
Solution 1: Usability research
During a usability study, we bring users in to our lab and invite the client team to observe them complete key tasks on their site. By asking participants to think out loud as they navigate, we gain insight into the mental model that they’re bringing to the interaction. After 4 or 5 people, clear trends start to emerge and we’re able to identify key breakdowns and listen to users as they explain why it’s confusing.
Usability research is a fantastic way to gain organizational alignment on a path forward. Internal stakeholders may have differing opinions on how to improve conversion or might not even agree there’s a problem. Research turns opinions into facts. The act of watching users struggle with a task or express frustration with a process has a way of unifying organizational attitudes about what needs to be addressed.
Solution 2: Heuristic analysis
If you don’t have the time or budget for a usability study, a heuristic analysis is quick and efficient way to gather feedback on your site or application. In the case of the heuristic, the consultants at Crux Collaborative serve as a proxy for your customers. We make recommendations based on our expertise in the interactive space. After almost 20 years of conducting research we’re able to accurately predict how users are likely to behave— this is especially true for sites in the healthcare, financial services, or benefits administration sectors, where we’ve done the vast majority of our work. We essentially provide our expert opinion on how to refine your site to better address the needs of your customers. While not as impactful as observing users, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to get an outside perspective.
We’re a small group of usability consultants based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We specialize in complex, transactional, user experience design for regulated industries. If you’re interested in learning more about what type of user research would be the best fit for your next project, we’d love to help, please contact us to learn more.
By Gregg Harrison
Gregg’s passion for all things digital started two decades ago as a project manager and has expanded over the years to include a focus on user experience consulting, client management, and operations.View Gregg's Bio