How to engage the “I’ll do it later” user

The “Voicemail vs SMS” example

In the middle of a meeting at work, I noticed a missed call from my mother.” You have one new message. Please dial 222 to listen to your message.”

Alright, later, I thought and continued discussing with my colleagues. After the meeting a few of us headed directly to the next meeting.

As I stepped into the room I discovered yet another new message, this time from my dad. I clicked on the message:

”We are standing first in line to buy tickets to that Christmas concert we talked about earlier. The queue here is enormous. Shall we buy tickets to you as well? Mummy tried to call you and left a message earlier about this.”

I texted: “Do that! Thanks dad!” and sent my message.

Later that evening my mother called me.
“How come you only reply to messages that your father sends and not to mine?” she said and sounded both hurt and disappointed.

”The answer is simple”, I said.
“When you leave a message on my voice mail the following happens:
- First I have to click on the message on my phone.
- Then I have to call my voice mail.
- Then I have to listen to that monotone voice telling me I have two new messages, where the first one was obsolete a long time ago.
- Then I have to listen to the date and time of the message.
- Then I have to listen to directions on how to erase the message.
- And then, finally, your message is played.

When daddy sends a text message, his question is stated directly in the message. It might have taken him longer time to prepare his message then it took for you to say yours at my voice mail but his message had no extra steps on the way. That´s why!“

If you want someone, who is engaged in a million other things at the same time, to pay attention to your specific request or product, you need to do the dirty work. You need to make it as simple as possible for the receiver. No extra clicks, no extra information.
Just to the point.

The “Mummy, come and play a game” example

- I know you are going to say no to this question but I’ll ask it anyway, my son said to my one day after school when I had my arms full of dirty laundry on my way to the washing machine.
- Do you want to play Monopoly with me? he asked.

I sighed and starred at the laundry and at the fridge filled with all the food I had to prepare for dinner. And at my phone and that precious time just to sit down and catch up on my internet errands.

- Not right now honey, but maybe later, I answered.
- That means no, he said with a disappointed voice. You always say Later and that always means Never.
- I will play Monopoly with you, I promise, but not today. You know, that game takes hours to play and I don’t have that time right now, honey.

My son grabbed a pile of playing cards and said.

- What if we play one game of Go Fish? That only takes ten minutes.

I looked at the clock on the wall.

- Alright. Let´s do it!

We ended up playing Go Fish for one hour. Afterwards my son said to me:
- Mummy, lets buy more of these easy games that are quick to play.
- Why do you want that, my son?
- Because then you engage in them.

When the barrier to engagement is low, it is more likely that you say yes to something right away instead of putting it on your “do it later debt list”. And as my clever son told me, most often Later turns to Never…

Can you afford that to happen?

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Don’t ruin your website with the Never Asked Questions

“This is our brand new website”, the vice president of company ABC said with pride in his voice. “It states what we do here in the authority. What we do, who we are and what we stand for. Our website is totally transparent. We don’t hide anything from our citizens here. Everything is disclosed.”

The new consultant nodded slowly and pointed at different areas on the screen using a red Laser Pointer.

“Do you often get questions about this content?”

He turned his attention directly to the vice president.

“No, not so often, no..”, the vice president said. “It is not like that our clients go around asking about it, but we still need to show it… I mean, this is what we stand for and what if someone is looking for this piece of information and they can´t find it?”

“Well I guess they probably try to call you if they needed the information?”

“That might be a bit of a problem. You see, our Customer Service is flooded with calls from people having lots of questions all day long. If we would remove that information from our website, there would be even more people calling us than before. That is, no one would be able to get a quick answer from us.”

The vice president studied the consultant. He seemed to take notes on everything said in the room. He seemed ambitious, that was a good sign. Much better than his lazy precursors. Maybe this one finally was their guy.

“Mmhm”, the consultant murmured while drawing something on his paper. “And what about those people you mentioned having a lot of questions? Have you deleted the information they need or why do they keep calling you all the time?”

“Of course we haven’t”, the vice president said. “Since we get so many recurrent questions we decided they needed special attention on our website. We call it Frequently Asked Questions”, he said spelling it out loudly in the room. “You see, we always direct the ones calling us to this part of our website.”

The vice president pointed at the top question in the Frequently Asked Question column on the screen.

“This is my favorite question: What are your opening hours?. We decided to put that one on top of the list since Customer Service complained about all the questions they got on opening hours.”

The consultant added something on his paper and cleared his throat.

“Alright, folks. This is what I, and probably the main part of your clients, see when they visit your website”, he said and placed his paper on the middle of the table.

“This will be exciting”; the vice president said eager and removed his glassed. “Ok, there´s our logo on top and the Frequently Asked Questions… I am with you so far; he said and looked at the paper sketch.

“But what does NA stand for?”

The consultant took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. It looked as if he was counting to ten quietly to himself before answering.

“NA stands for Never Asked. That is, content that no one really needs.  And you seem to have filled nearly all you website with this NA-content.”

The vice president glanced anxiously at the only woman in the room.

“That was not a nice thing to say”, he said anxiously, “Martha here and her staff has been working day and night now for weeks to get all the content in place. And now you tell her that no one needs this? That she did all this work for nothing?”

The consultant nodded slowly.

“So you suggest we should emphasize more on the Frequently asked questions then? Make them bigger? Maybe put all our content in here?

“No. That is definitely not the answer.”,  the consultant said with a determined voice. “You have missunderstood the whole point of a website. Shut it down and we would all be better of.”

At that exact moment Martha started sobbing at the back of the room. At the front of the room the vice president started thinking about ways to end the contract with the consultant earlier than agreed. Much earlier actually.

Is Never Asked content blocking your users from finding answers on your website? Is your website a replica of your company? Are the frequently asked questions growing?

Then maybe you need to reconsider your content strategy:

  • Be aware of your users frequently asked questions.
  • Use your website to provide the answers. No one is looking for a question.
  • Your company is not the same thing as your website. Don’t sprinkle it with content Never Asked. That information can still be derived from customer service and other channels

PS.  If your users find what they are looking for right away, they don’t need to ask you the same questions over and over again.



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Why your product needs a story

It was the end of November last year and I decided to get an advent calendar for my children. I stared at the calendars available in the store, with calendar windows containing different Christmas motifs inside. To be honest, they seemed a bit boring. I wanted to give my children something else, something they would remember.

I went down to the local toy store and decided I would try out a present calendar with 24 different things, one for each day. The store had lots of things. Useless things that no one really needs. Things that would be forgotten one minute after they got opened. If I was to buy these things for my children, would they appreciate it? And which things would I pick? I started to come up with arguments of why they would need the different things but gave up when I reached the fifth one. Nothing seemed really exiting to give or to get. There was something missing.  Something to connect the things and make them meaningful. They needed context. They needed a story.

I returned home and started writing a story in 24 parts. A story containing a mystery and different clues leading up to the solution in the end. When I was done I went back to the toy store. But this time I didn’t look for 24 meaningless things to wrap in a present calendar. This time I looked for  clues relevant to the story I had written. The story would raise the gifts and make them important and special.

It turned out my children loved the calendar and its selected clues. They got engaged in the story and longed for the next part. And now, one year later, they still remember the story and which clues they got as presents.

This year a few of my friends asked me if I could share my Christmas story with them so that they could tell it to their children. I published information about it at and spread the word through viral channels such as Facebook and Twitter. To my surprise, 25 different people ordered my story in the first week. Many of them are people I don’t know.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can connect your product to a context and give it purpose. An underlying story makes it easier to remember the products and associate them with certain feelings and attributes.

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Minimize waste, are you designing for needs or wants?

Molly sat in the waiting room with dental phobia and a tremendous toothache. She was lucky she got an appointment so early to this coveted dentist. He had a reputation of always being on the clients’ side; stating that the client was always right no matter what. If he couldn’t fix her toothache in a way that she would be pleased with, then who could?

The door to the dentist´s surgery room opened. A man wearing a white coat announced her turn. She recognized him from all the pictures she found when googling his name prior to the visit. With a firm grip of the plastic bag she had kept in her lap, she got up from the chair and approached him.

- I see you brought something today, he said and glanced at her bag.
- Yes, Molly said and opened it.
- This is an expensive drill that my father bought a few years ago when he had toothache after a recommendation from his dentist. It worked really well to cure his pain so I would very much appreciate it if you could use it today. And hopefully it will be less expensive as well, since I bring my own equipment?

The dentist studied the drill for a second.

- Hmm, he said slowly, it might be cheaper for you, yes, but I cannot say for sure what the price will be in this state of time. What I can promise you though, is that we can use it. You are the best one to know what you want in this situation and if this is important to you, then it is important to us as well, he continued and gave her a comforting smile.

Relieved by his words she entered the surgery room and closed the door behind her.

Two hours later she opened it again, slowly stepping out into the waiting room. Several parts of her mouth ached after the surgery. The new dental plate in her upper jaw made it difficult to press the teeth towards each other and the wound from the corner of the mouth bled constantly. In spite of the surgery wounds, the toothache was gone. It really was! The bill got quite a bit more expensive than she had calculated with, but that was probably a reasonably price considering all that had to be done.

Molly spotted a frightened client starring at her in the waiting room.

- There is no need to be afraid, she mumbled trough her dental plate.
- What did he do to you? the woman whispered.
- He just repaired a hole that ached a lot, she said and tried to smile.

The woman looked skeptically at her.
- And what’s with the other stuff?
- Oh, you mean this? Molly said while pointing at the dental plate and the wound.
- They are circumstances that appeared in order to be able to use the drill properly.
- What are you saying? He did all of this BECAUSE OF A DRILL? the woman yelled upset while her face turned purple.

- Exactly. I wanted him to use a certain drill that I brought since I knew it worked. He then needed to do some medical interventions on a few other teeth and accidently he hit the corner of the mouth. But the drill worked!

Surely you wouldn’t approach your dentist or your brain surgeon telling them what instrument they should use to cure you. That would be a waste of time and a high risk. You probably know less about the procedures of solving your problem than they do. What you do know though, is the nature of your problem, the reason why you came to them for help.

When we create solutions for the web, we sometimes face customers telling us to include a certain product or technique they have invested in, often purposed for another intention. What help would you give to this kind of issue?

“Yes, of course we can do a solution based on what you want” or
“No, this is not the best way to solve your problem”? 

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Web editors 2.0: From word count to conversion hunt

Lesley glanced at the new guy in the corridor. He had a very strange way of making an entrance on his first day. Instead of polishing the web editor-sign outside his door; the sign that all the web editors had outside their rooms; the sign that everyone polished on their first day, he just put it away. This wasn’t exactly company policy. And this particular day company policies mattered more than ever before.

In less than five minutes the new head of online services was expected at the office. Rumors had it there were some changes ahead and they were not of the positive kind.

Lesley sat down on his chair and opened a new document in Microsoft Word. He had some writing to do today, like every other day. He looked at the diploma hanging on the wall stating he was the most productive editor this year with a rate of 50 articles per month. And next to his diploma the words “All news are good news” printed on extra thick paper.

He started writing today’s first sentence when he heard the door bell ring. This was it! He pushed himself out of his chair and stomped outside into the corridor.

He noticed that the new guy had placed a hand written sign with the letters “C H” outside his door. Probably his initials, Lesley thought. How pathetic. Everyone had their whole name written on the door, not just some silly abbreviation that no one could remember or understand. Clarity was one of the core values in this company.

Outside the office door stood a short man with a grave look in his face. He looked like the type that never smiled.

Lesley took a deep breath, put on his best smile and opened:
“You must be the new head of online services?”

The short man nodded and stepped into the office corridor.
“That’s correct. I am Stanley, he said and shook Lesley’s hand firmly. And you are?”
“Lesley. I am one of the web editors.”

In the corner of his eye he spotted the new guy, Mr. “C H” approaching them.

“Well… actually I am the editor here”, Lesley continued with a loud voice.
“And why is that?”

The head of online services seemed a bit more interested.

“You see, I have the highest production rate for web articles here this year!” he yelled proudly.
“Aha, good for you”, the head of online services said before he turned his attention to the new guy standing next to him.

“And who do we have here?”
“I am Stephen”,  the new guy said and reached out his hand.
“And you are also one of the web editors, I guess?”

Lesley starred at this Stephen guy.
How the hell did he pass the recruitment process? Without having a clue of what he was supposed to be working with.

“I am a conversion hunter”,  Stephen said with a clear voice and pointed at the wrinkled piece of paper with the letters “C H” outside his door. “Eager to maximize output of this website and get the highest conversion rate this year.”

“Aha, good for us!” the new head of online services said, and finally he smiled.

Are you focused on bringing lots of words to your website or lots of value to your business?

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Responsive design – what you see is what you get

Jenny stared at the man in the dark glasses sitting 2 inches away from his computer. He was the first visually impaired person on the usability test for the new website they were developing. The only thing visible on his screen was a giant Home button and the upper left corner of a picture. It was the picture the team had chosen with great concern.

- Well, this looks like a nice site, he said and clicked on the Home button.

Now the screen showed the Home button and the upper left corner of another picture. How was he to know whether this was a nice site or not? With the zooming level he used he missed the whole message. All their thoughts about how each page would be experienced from a user perspective were lost.

- Let’s see what we have here, he said and scrolled downwards and then horizontally to the right. Jenny noticed he just missed the search field right above.

- What if you try to zoom out a bit to see the rest of the page? she suggested eager to help him.

-Aha, you mean there’s more than this? he said with a doubtful voice and turned his head towards her.

- Sorry, just a nearly-blind-man-joke, he continued with a laugh. There is no use for me to zoom out. The text gets too small then and impossible for me to read.

Most certainly he would never return to this site again. Why would he? It would take him ages to just find the search box.

On her way back to the office she decided to try and find a place open for vaccination prior to her trip to Africa next month.

She picked up her phone and googled “vaccination yellow Fever”. The first hit sounded like a vaccination centre. She clicked on it.

“Sorry, but the page you are looking for doesn´t exist in this mobile version. Would you like to visit our full website version instead?”

Would I? No idea. I want a vaccine against yellow Fever, she frowned and clicked on the link for the full website version.

At the full website version of the vaccination centre, the text was so small she had to zoom in a lot. In fact, the only thing she saw on her mobile screen after zooming in was a home button and the upper left corner of a picture.

-Hmm, let’s see here… Where would I find the information about opening hours? Is it further down? To the right? Further down to the right? She swiped downwards and horizontally.

-Alright, this will get me nowhere and will take me forever, she said angrily to herself.

Her words from earlier today echoed in her head:
“What if you try to zoom out a bit to see the rest of the page?”

- The text gets to small then and impossible for me to read, she answered herself and stared at her phone showing a glimpse of a full website version.


How much of your message gets through to your visitors? Some argue that a mobile version showing a selection of your content with links to the full website is the way to go. But the cross-linking and zooming will disrupt the user’s journey to his answer. With a separate mobile version you may also end up with one extra content baby to feed and take care of.

Why only provide some of your content in excellent vision?

Be responsive. Give your users a full and satisfactory experience no matter what device or tools they need.

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User scenarios – a powerful tool for higher conversion rates

What would you call the story of a user who wants to perform a task and fails? Some call it user scenarios but for me they are best describes as “situationas”. Situationas (or user scenarios) are stories that express user needs in a context. Whereas personas are focused on characteristics of users, situationas focuses on characteristics of user situations. It consists of three integral parts:

Who needs to do what and how well they are performing it today.

The situationa of Lisa below tells you nothing about who she is married to, what her interests are or where she lives. It only focuses on what she is trying to complete in her current situation.

Lisa needs to place reviews on remaining students
Lisa is in a hurry when she logs on to the school web. She clicks on the heading “class list” and sees the names of all the students in her class. The list view doesn’t say if a review has been placed or not. She clicks on the name Alice and sees that she has already given her a review. She continues to Oliver. After clicking on his name, she writes a short review about his achievements before its time to head back for class. On her way back to the classroom she realizes that she once again forgot to specify that the review concerned “fall 2011” which means Oliver parents will not find the review where they expect to find it.

Situationas can be effective when:

  • You need to visualize and explain why and where your website isn’t meeting your users goals
  • You or other members of your team need to decide how to improve your website in a way that increases conversion rate

You might argue and say that this sounds just like a use case or a user story. A user story tells you who wants to do what and why. A use case visualizes the steps necessary for a user to complete a goal. A situationa on the other hand helps visualizing obstacles present on the actual path your visitors take on your site today. These obstacles might be known to the ones performing user tests or analyzing web statistics. It is what you do next that is crucial. Do you come up with a solution to the obstacles right away or visualize the them to other team members or clients? By telling the story of your user’s situation you will include more people, more brains :-) in coming up with the best solution.

Consider the example below when two team members discuss a certain feature they are about to develop:

“Why are we placing an icon here?” “Lisa needs to see who she has reviewed on an aggregated level” versus “No idea. Maybe someone decided that icons look nice on this site”.

Which case would you rather solve?

By combining user scenarios (or situationas :-), user stories and use cases, you’ll get powerful tools for understanding the nature of the user needs, the reason why they want to perform a task and how to design the quickest path to complete the task without obstacles.

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Content Jeopardy – Is your web providing answers or raising questions?

Ellen talked to yet another annoyed client on the phone. “Did you know I had to wait on the phone for 40 minutes,  listening to a stupid voice telling me I should start looking for information on your website?. If I had found the information on your website in the first place I wouldn’t have to call you at all, would I?!”

And I wouldn’t have to give the same answer over and over again, Ellen thought to herself and sighed.

-  Sometimes I wonder if we need a website at all since everyone keeps calling us anyway, she said to her colleague Nina during lunch break.
-  And why does everyone keep calling us? Nina asked.
-  Because they can’t find the answers on our web.
-  And why can’t they find the answers on our web?
-  Because the answers are hidden behind too much information.
-  Why is it hidden behind too much information?
-  Because we publish everything we produce.
-  Why do we publish everything we produce?
-  Because we don’t know what the clients are looking for and no one has time to find out anyway.
-  Why is it so? I thought we had editors working full time with the web?
-  We do. The problem is that they are busy feeding the web with new information, not answering questions.
-  Well, they don’t need to answer questions, do they? Nina said and smiled.
-  Don’t they?
-  No… you are the one helping the clients, right?
-  You bet I do. At least for those surviving the 40 minutes wait…

Who is answering your clients’ questions today? Is your website taking more time than it saves? Many companies put up goals in terms of “Our new website will save time for our clients and our call center”. If you don’t know what primary answers your visitors are looking for online, you may end up wasting time for your clients, editors and call center.

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Are you solving problems or producing solutions?

Evan found himself surrounded by solutions. They were everywhere; on the floor, on his desk, in his briefcase. The ultimate scenario, right? Always having a solution whenever you might need one, he thought to himself and folded yet another paper plane from an old solution and threw it across the room.

Evan was the man of solutions. And he hated every second of it.

His paper plane accidently hit his colleague David on the head.
David looked up from his desk.

-  What’s your problem? he said with an irritated voice.
-  Ha ha, very funny.. Evan said. I don’t have any problems, only solutions.
-  Well, that sounds like a problem to me, David said and threw the paper plane in the bin.

Evan never liked this David guy. He clearly had problems. And why did he have to express them all the time?

-  So you think I have a problem, Evan said angrily. I really don’t have time for this nonsense, I am trying to solve things here and you’re disturbing me!

-  And what are you trying to solve then? David asked in a soft voice.
-  Everything! I need to find the best solution out of all these in front of me; Evan said and threw all the solution papers up in the air. Does it seem easy to you, does it?
-  So what problem are you trying to solve? David said standing in the middle of the paper rain.
-  No problem. Only solutions remember.
-  But how do you know which solution is the best one then?
-  Well… I guess I’ll find out soon. One of these has to be better than the rest. I mean I’ve really tried here to come up with as many different alternatives as I can. It’s just difficult to make the right choice.

David sat down next to Evan and whispered in his ear:
-  Don’t waste your time coming up with solutions to non existing problems. Use it to identify the real problem instead. If you only need one solution then what are all these other ones worth? David said and pointed at the papers on the floor.

Evan thought for a while. Then he gathered the papers and threw them in the paper bin.
- I guess they are best suited for feeding the paper bin.

- Well, maybe you have time to help me with a real problem then? David said.
- I’ll just bring my sol.., Evan said and glanced at his clean desk.

Nothing to bring, no back pack. Only one question:

- What is your problem?

Don’t fill your desk with solutions to unidentified problems. They will only be in your way. Producing solutions that no one needs is a waste of time. Solving someone’s problem is time well spent. Until you know what problem you need to solve, the answer is never an answer. It is a question.

 “If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.”   Albert Einstein

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What is the point?

On this page you will find information about my latest story. The story might be difficult to read due to several reasons. If you need a higher contrast on the screen I suggest you adjust contrast in your web browser. If you have an old computer with a resolution lower than 1024 px, it may be difficult for you to read this page. If you want to see other stories here you will need to use the scroll to get further down in the text. The scroll bar works differently depending on the type of device you are using. You may also click on the categories to the right of the page. On the bottom of the page you will find share buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Google +. If you want to share this in another place, I recommend you to copy the url of this page.

Get to the point god damn it!

Did you have a hard time getting here? Or did you just skip the intro since it was too long or didn’t concern you?

The point is that the point itself doesn’t have to be short. The point is why your visitor is here. Don’t let them struggle to get to the point by hiding it with instructions, explanations or excuses. There is a saying that visitors can not be bothered to read a lot of text online. I believe that is only partially true. For the past 2 years now, I have been conducting user tests for a health care web site filled with extensive medical articles as well as online services and contact information to different health centers. When asking people who has been recently diagnosed with asthma if the asthma article is too long, the answer is “No, I would like to read all I can about asthma”. When testing another part of the website, for example an online service being deeply explained at the top, the same person might say: “There is too much information here. I don’t have time to read all this”.

When the content itself is the point, the user will notice it and engage in it even if it is long. When the content is there merely to describe factors around the point or as an informative transit page describing which content you will find if you click on a link, the user will either ignore it or get hindered by it on their way to the real content. Don’t let them get lost in the “mumbo jumbo” desert.

Cut the crap, not the core.

PS. You don’t need to explain everything in advance. By placing the meta content below your core content it is not in the way for the “happy flow” and is still present for those in need of instructions of how to manage the task they are about to complete.

“Some words may hide others”
William Shakespeare, 16th century.

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