6 insights about sustainable web concepts

<em>Storytelling gives a deeper understanding of why things are the way they are. This article summarizes lessons learned from my experiences related to web concepts in 2011.</em>

<strong>A great solution needs a real problem</strong>

Anyone can build a web site filled with content, nice pictures and buttons to click on. A great solution however needs a real problem. Ask yourself what business need or user pain point your concept will solve. Is your solution a painkiller for real? Will people feel they got the answer they were looking for after visiting your site? Visualize the underlying need to what you are fulfilling or you might end up building <a title=”User friendly dead ends” href=”http://www.storytella.se/2011/user-friendly-dead-ends-2/”>user friendly dead-ends</a>.

<strong>Kill the darlings that steal your money</strong>

Candy is sweet but bad for your teeth. Just like misplaced content might be. Sometimes it is difficult to find a home for all your content. Instead of spending hours figuring out if the content will make the user experience better or worse, put up an A/B-test to find out which <a title=”Inform and entertain does not pay your salary” href=”http://www.storytella.se/2011/inform-and-entertain-does-not-pay-your-salary/”>content that steals your money</a>. Maybe some of it is best placed in the trash can?

<strong>Be feature sensitive </strong>

How will new features affect the user experience of your solution? Be feature sensitive and filter new functionality through your basic concept idea and your primary target group before deciding to implement them. As for me, I remember when Facebook was easy to use with its pleasing overview of what your friends were doing. Lately, I have the impression that <a title=”The feature creep, excellent bug to kill a concept” href=”http://www.storytella.se/2011/the-feature-creep/”>too many features have moved in </a>without adding value to the genuine user experience.

<strong>Save time for your visitors </strong>

Many people use the web to save time. What actions can you take to shorten the visit for your user? How can you provide them with quick answers online so they can focus on doing something else the rest of their valuable time? <a title=”Attaining loyalty: the strive for shorter visits” href=”http://www.storytella.se/2011/attaining-loyalty-the-strive-for-shorter-visits/”>Loyalty comes with fulfilling a need</a>. Facilitate the lives of your visitors’ and they’ll pay you back with a visit again.

<strong>Don’t overdose content out of context </strong>

Several websites seem to be flooded with news articles broadcasted to everyone and no one. When a visitor enters your website they are looking for an answer. <a title=”The news abuse – content overdosed” href=”http://www.storytella.se/2011/the-news-abuse-content-overdosed/”>Don’t overdose content out of context</a><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>.</span> It will distract your visitors where they don’t need it and make them frustrated not finding it where it should be. In the destination context your content will be meaningful to your visitors and therefore used.

<strong>No system on its own will be the answer to your prayers</strong>

<a title=”Waiting for Messiah” href=”http://www.storytella.se/2011/waiting-for-messiah/”>Don’t forget the users behind the scene</a>. It is important to anchor the building blocks of your concept with the editors and content workers early. Arrange meetups with people who have different approaches to content e.g. developers, interaction designers, editors, etc and create an iterative process of understanding, contributing ideas and giving feedback to each other with a common goal: To realize a sustainable  solution engaging as many users as possible.

<em>Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2012 to all of you excellent people making lives easier!<a href=”http://www.storytella.se/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Merry-christmas-and-happy-new-20122.jpg”><img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-192″ title=”Merry christmas and happy new 2012″ src=”http://www.storytella.se/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Merry-christmas-and-happy-new-20122.jpg” alt=”” width=”650″ height=”505″ /></a></em>

The news abuse – content overdosed

Mike headed downtown to the new library to find a particular book about dinosaurs. The task was to bring back the book to class today without any help from the elementary school teacher. When he arrived at the library he pressed the door handle, entered the huge lobby and was immediately flooded with information from the news people.

<em> “Our annual report is out. Read the full report here…” “There is a new area for marketing literature at this library…” “The new edition of “Learning by doing” is delayed!” “Our latest employee is Karen Olsen.” “Now you can borrow all your books a week longer. Go to the…”</em>

They were all over the luxurious entrance hall, trying to get his and other visitors’ attention. Mike covered his ears to be able to keep focus on the name of the book he was looking for.

In a dark corner at the end of the hall, he spotted a tiny desk with a note saying: “Fill in this form before you start asking us questions”. Most certainly he wouldn’t find the book that way.

He noticed the signs next to the stairs. There was Psychology on the first floor, Drama on the second, Biology on the third and History on the fourth floor.

He ran up the stairs to the fourth floor. In contrast to the entrance, this corridor was empty, lacking the luxurious décor of the entrance hall. He went through the shelves in order to find books about dinosaurs. After navigating through the whole floor he finally found the book he was looking for. He ran down the stairs, borrowed it and headed for class.

Back at school the teacher looked at his book.

“Hmm” she said. “I am afraid this is the wrong edition of “Dinosaurs of Our Lives”.
“I didn’t know there was a later edition”, he said disappointedly, not being able to complete the task.
“Didn’t anyone inform you about this when you borrowed it?” she asked him.
“No, no one did”.

The teacher decided to call the library to find out why they didn’t tell their clients about the various editions. In this particular case the two editions were completely different from each other.

“I am certain he was given that information”, the librarian answered when the teacher called him. “You see, we have at least ten news people in the entrance hall, announcing news all day long. And we also have a whole room filled with older news. Why didn’t he look there?”

The teacher sighed loudly.

“He didn’t know he had to pay attention to the news in the entrance hall or in the separate news room. How was he supposed to know there was a later edition when he entered the library? That information has to be given to him on the actual book shelf where the dinosaur book is.”

After the telephone call the librarian called the managing director.

“It seems we have to increase the number of news people and put them closer to the front door. It´s clear our visitors don’t notice them enough right now”.

<em>In real life, you wouldn’t broadcast all your news to every visitor in the entrance hall. That would be a waste of time since much of the information isn’t of interest to each individual visitor. On many websites though, that is exactly the case: news are presented on a central area of the start page, frequently updated by ambitious editors. Few visitors are genuinely interested in news per se unless they are visiting a news site. Specific information is more likely to be read in the context where your visitors need it; on a destination page rather than on the start page. In the destination context your content will be meaningful to your visitors and therefore used.</em>

Attaining loyalty: the strive for shorter visits

The Hanson family, a frequent buyer of food online suddenly switched their engagement from one web store to another. They ended up with exactly the same groceries, delivered the same day at a higher cost. Did they feel disappointed? Mislead? Quite the opposite actually. Finally they felt satisfied with the routine for real.

That was odd, wasn’t it?

To solve this mystery, the first web store hired a web detective who paid a visit to the Hanson family.

“Why did you change supplier for your food purchases?” the detective asked, sitting next to Mrs. Hanson in their living room.” Isn’t price important for a frequent buyer like you? I mean, even a few eurocents a week make a big difference over time.”

Mrs. Hanson nodded slowly.

“Price matters of course. But something else matters too… In fact you´ve just mentioned a clue yourself” she said with a cryptically smile and got up from her chair. “Would you care for some expensive coffee bought online?”

Without giving him a chance to answer she headed for the kitchen.

The web detective felt frustrated, anxious to get the answer from Mrs. Hanson. He hated these home visits. All this time spent sitting in someone’s living room drinking coffee while trying to find the right clues. What was the damn clue in his phrase earlier?

“I m sorry I left you in such despair all this time” Mrs. Hanson said when she finally arrived carrying a tray with coffee and Maryland cookies into the room. “Time badly spent makes you feel frustrated, doesn’t it?”

Her words made the token drop down.

“It time, isn’t it? The clue, I mean” the detective said victorious.

“You bet it is”, she answered. “You see, at the first web store you could not save a basic shopping list and reuse it. The procedure of having to write down a new list every week was time consuming. The other web store had this and other smart features to speed up the purchase.  Since we do the purchases several times a month, these features get important over time. We started buying food online for a reason, you know.”

“To save time, I guess?”

“Exactly. Saving time includes more than avoiding visits to the local store every week. By engaging in the second web store we saved time at home as well. They also presented the groceries in a much nicer way which turned online food shopping to a pleasant experience instead of a tedious one.”

The web detective felt satisfied. This turned out to be a quick visit after all.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hanson. I believe our case is closed.”

<em>People use the web for many reasons. One reason is to save time. Time not having to be spent queuing in a food store every week for example. If your customers are willing to pay for time saving, don´t waste their time online. Provide them only with content and features helping them solve their problem quicker. You will make their lifes easier and in return they will reward you by being loyal to you even if your offer is not the cheapest one out there.</em>