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Weak UX design is kind of like a limp handshake

The other day I was researching a site for a client, which involved me trawling through hundreds of accounting websites. Admittedly, it’s not the most exhilarating of professions to research but the adventure into unexplored territory excited me. Let’s face it the combination of ‘taxation accountant’ and ‘boundary pushing graphic design’ is not likely to feature in the same sentence. Ever.

My research led me to assume that somewhere around 1998 an epidemic of bad website design occurred and every second suburban accountant and their abacus got stuck there.

It took my eyes a few days to recover from the assault of flashing red text against a yellow and brown background. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can still see it.

It inspired me to put together a list of usability tips dedicated to all those that still believe in using Bold Times New Roman headings.

Who are you and can you help me? 

This is the question that needs to be answered when a potential lead clicks on your site. Your in depth knowledge does not travel telepathically through the screen. Knowledge is not acquired via osmosis and you’re going to need to spell it out, succinctly and assertively. Think about it this way, a weak introduction is like a limp handshake. First impressions count.  Make sure this information is obvious on all pages – don’t always assume that all your web traffic hits your homepage first. Check your Google analytics to see where your bounce rate is highest and use that as a guide to message relevancy.

What do you want from me?

Adam Lambert wrote a whole song about it, although I’m certain he was not writing about your websites call to action. Always assume that people want to know more or what the next steps are. Our relationship with browsing websites has a flow, we search, we find, we assess and then we want to know what happens next. We don’t want to fill in the blanks; we’re searching because we want answers or solutions. Make sure your call to action is on every page. There are some great free sticky top bars you can use like Try different variations of your Call to Action and monitor your click through rates.

Umm where am I?

One accounting website I clicked on had made use of a sneaky introduction video. This was like no other as the uninspiring man in the video had a comb over, a monotone and a brown suit.  I have never understood the point of those – imagine right now Mat Beeche entered stage right, walked across your monitor and said “Hi, I’m Mat and you’re reading the Startup Daily Blog’. Well thanks for the distraction Mat, I was too busy trying reading this amazing blog post and now I’ve lost my train of thought. If you need to orientate your visitors with a public service announcement your site needs help.

Have we met before?

I’m well versed in stock photo fatigue from my 4Cabling days. Trying to find an appealing photo of an electrician that doesn’t cross the line into 70’s soft porn is no easy feat. I know this because over the 10 years I have spent countless hours getting to know the faces of stock. My routine tour of competitors sites started to reveal familiar stock faces as brand ambassadors on their about us page. Take a look around your office now, no one looks like those stock photos. Not every staff member has perfectly synchronised ties and sweaters and sits at their meticulously tidy glass desk typing happily at a computer that isn’t plugged in. Studies prove that photos of real people are 95% more effective than stock photo. Remember that every image you use on site gives your audience a subliminal message.

Where am I?

The biggest and most ignored factor of usability is navigation. Whenever someone goes to Ikea their biggest complaint has to be circumnavigating 3000 photo frames to find the exit. Not even Ikea do that to their web visitors, so neither should you. Let your visitors know where they are by keeping your titles consistent and obvious. Leave breadcrumbs like life rafts of navigation, trust me people cling to them.  When designing your menu keep in mind that mobiles and tablets don’t display layered navigation well so keep your topline categories relevant. Navigation should be intuitive; you don’t want your visitors to have to think about where they need to go to find what they’re looking for. If your site is very content heavy have your search bar handy.

The buck doesn’t stop at your website. These days the digital world is a virtual extension of your operation. If your website, business card and catalogue all look like different business it may be time to consolidate and refresh. Brochures navigate very differently to webpages, so make sure your designer understands the nuance of designing for web. Invest in a designer that understands the personality of your brand, even if you are an accountant and you like to wear brown suits.

Startup Daily