Web Site Usability: The Cult of the Critically Obessed

The conversation was tense, to say the least. Two web designers, who designed and built a web site for my client, who is the stakeholder, were on a conference call with me to review the usability/user experience site audit I’d prepared for their web site.

One web designer says, “Judging from the report, you don’t like the homepage, right?”

“Oh no!,” I replied, “I LOVE it.” Truth is, it’s gorgeous. I review hundreds of sites and this one was above average attractive. However, the entire web site is not converting, which is typical. ” Pretty” has never equaled sales.

Pretty means:

1. Impossible or highly frustrating for dial-up users.

So let’s look at that one. The other webmaster quickly piped up with stats, and I was impressed with her ready access to data on browsers, resolutions, and connections. A small percentage of their users use dial-up. So, does this mean those that do use dial-up, came, saw the gihungus FLASH taking up 80 percent of the top half of the page and left before waiting for it to load? Do we ignore those people? They’re not worth selling to? According to the Soccer Mom Myth, women are the most likely to be still using dial-up. The target market for this client is women.

2. Looks perfect on high resolution monitors.

One might believe most people are looking at sites from 1024 and upwards and in America, that’s correct. However, how many women own a computer? How many are secretly shopping from work and forced to use their employers old equipment? How up to date are library computers and stores that offer walk-up computers to the public? Colleges and schools, what about them? Sure, in my house we’re computer junkies who upgrade yearly, but we’re not normal. And for women, who are genius comparison shoppers, it’s nothing for them to have many windows and tabs opened up at once. This means it’s wise to be alert where your call to action and lead tasks are placed on your pages.

3. Glossy photos

In this case, the products are targeted to baby boomer women, with a certain percentage also starting at age 30. The product solves a health issue. Nowhere on the site are their pictures of what a woman looks like with this health problem. I saw one woman with gray hair, tucked inside the site somewhere. The rest were models, pictures of glowing health, young and vibrant, with whitened teeth smiles and perfect hair. I’ve long said that web sites that sell products to baby boomer women and put 20 -30 year old, size 3 models on their pages are idiots. I haven’t looked like that since I was 10.


4. Not Available for Everyone

We discussed whether or not products would be ordered from Blackberries or cell phones that are Internet-ready. It’s not a requirement. However, in my mind, it could be one or two years from now. Does that mean they get a .mobi version? Fiddle with the present one? The moving FLASH images, however nice and beautifully crafted, are distracting for anyone with ADD or ADHD. Yes, older women are ADD sufferers and many in the baby boomer age went undiagnosed and untreated. Does my client want to ignore these potential customers? It’s my job to ask. Consider anyone, man or woman, who wants to order but they have MS or carpal tunnel or some health reason that causes hand tremors, making operating a mouse very difficult. Are there too many clicks in a task? Are there alternatives to using a mouse?

There was lots of silence on the phone. I was beginning to feel really uncomfortable speaking and bringing up anything. I’m a usability junkie. So, the torture continued.

The Webmasters’ asked, “What about the calls to action. What was wrong with them?” I responded with the positive stuff about placement in some pages, but needed to point out where they weren’t logically placed on other pages. Color contrasts failed testing. Sometimes a call to action was placed in a logical place for browsers and first time visitors, but not anywhere for return visitors who want to cut to the chase and just buy the darned thing. This was all in my report, but by now I wondered if the web designers were feeling threatened in front of the site owner. I hate that. I was a user interface engineer and we hate anyone who says anything against our stuff. But, I was hired to do a job and I learned years ago that it comes with being despised.

What was my problem with some of the calls to action? The wording. For example, “Buy Now and Save.” Wow. That will just get them clamoring into the shopping cart, won’t it?

I suggested playing with “Buy Today and Save 50%”.

There was no shopping cart link in the header, but there was “My Account”. Boring! And the word “my” is tricky. It feels better as “Your Account” because it is your account. But what the heck is it for? Where is the incentive to have one? Nowhere on the homepage, or really anywhere on the site, was anything about automatic product renewals and shipments. Once a customer understands what the account is used for, it takes on a new meaning. “Track Your Shipments” is an accurate label.

For an hour, the conversation went on, with me nitpicking and spilling out usability data in my head to back up my feedback. I had suggested that a Requirements Document would be nice to have done but sadly, these are considered a luxury most will not indulge in. When we hung up, I felt icky and that feeling lingered all day. I hoped I made sure to the site owner that his web designers were, in my opinion, really sharp and talented. But, I couldn’t help feeling that everything I said was received as being overly critical or a judgment. Being anal is not my intent. It comes from a deep rooted passion and devotion to helping people create web sites that turn web traffic into revenue generation.

I care about my client’ success and their right to achieve that. Am I obsessed? A usability fanatic from the Overly Critical and Anal Club? A neat freak? Hyper about the placement of napkins and silverware, or the angle of the toaster in the kitchen? Heck no!

Who has the time for THAT?