Imagine that you’re going on a little “field trip”. The year is 1988. The Washington Redskins have already washed the Bronco’s in Super Bowl XXII, Bruce Springsteen has kicked off his “Tunnel of Love” tour, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit has become a box-office hit.
On that day in ‘88, you are in Japan, visiting one of its premiere car manufacturers. You have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Not long ago, you’d had the pleasure of visiting the most high-tech auto-maker in the United States. You’ve seen the assembly process from start to finish. From the crafting of the wheel-well all the way to the room where doors, to ensure that they fit as intended, are modified via laser right before they are attached to the rest of the brand-spanking-new sedan. The tour goes as you expected; overall the manufacturing process appears to be apples-to-apples.
But towards the end you realize that your gracious tour guide has neglected to show you one key part of the process: the door modification room. You pull him aside and, so as not to embarrass your forgetful host, lower your voice and ask him to show you the room where the fancy, expensive lasers modify the doors. The same one you saw during your US car manufacturer tour. Your guide looks puzzled for a brief moment, before the edges of a smile creep across his face.
“We design the doors to fit from the very beginning.”
It was a simple solution. One that saved the average Japanese manufacturer in excess of $5 million dollars¹ over their U.S. counterparts each year.
You see, design isn’t an afterthought. It’s not throwing a simple gradient or drop shadow on top of your existing website structure and calling it a “good design”. Good design starts at the beginning, and to the extent that you fail to take it seriously, it will have tangible consequences that can plague your projects, products, and promotions.
But the inverse is also true. If you discover how your consumer-base relates to your website and apply those findings to your design, you will see a real, tangible return on your investment.
User Experience (UX): Validation
It all starts with testing. You’re spending real dollars on UX professionals to ensure the car door fits, and so you’re expecting a real return on your investment. That’s why starting with user testing is crucial. During this phase it is important to understand:
- What the user wants to do.
- What you want the user to do.
- How do you get the user to do what you want them to do.
Keeping those goals in mind, you can then begin testing to see how you’re going to actually accomplish them. Is the user finding it difficult to locate the sign-in feature? Are they completely glossing over that critical task that you really want them to accomplish? Are they getting overwhelmed with so many options that they give up and leave the site altogether? If so, the door doesn’t fit…and it could be costing you tens or even hundreds of thousands in transactions. Trying to “laser” on some aesthetic changes to update the design on the tail-end will only leave you frustrated and saying “I knew this design stuff was all pointless!”
Instead, have UX experts help you locate where the problems are. For example, it may be critical that a user register for that all-important service, one that is the crux of your business, yet for some reason user’s aren’t finding it. UX testing may discover that your money-maker is hidden among other important, but less critical tasks. A UX Designer may then design that particular call-to-action to have increased prominence by isolating it from the others and changing its placement on the page. No amount of gradients or drop shadows would have fixed this problem. But strong UX design born from user testing will. They are essentially making sure the door fits from the beginning by engaging in intense, comprehensive UX and user testing work.
Visual Design: Execution
“So, you’re saying that graphics and visual details are just superfluous? As long as I have some UX gurus I’m right as rain?”
Not quite. It cannot be overstated that the user experience process is the foundation for everything else. If the design fails at this stage, no amount of aesthetic work can save it. However, it would be a significant oversight to overlook visual design. For starters, great visual design that stays ahead of the trending curve will help visitors trust you more. Taking your online presentation seriously gives the user confidence that you are an organization that takes its products and services just as seriously.
But beyond that, the visual design is also critical to the aforementioned goals and tasks you want a user to easily accomplish. Color, form, space, hierarchy, balance, and their ilk all provide the user with cues and clues about what’s most important and what they need to do to accomplish that goal. Revisiting the earlier example, wherein you want to encourage the user to sign up for that service; UX design has already decided to isolate and reposition that call-to-action. Visual design will reinforce that decision, perhaps by using a carefully selected color or effect to ensure that this element jumps off of the screen.
Don’t Make Design An Afterthought
I’m sure if we could talk to the Production heads for those U.S. Manufacturers in ‘88 today, they would tell us one thing:
“Not putting design first is costly. Literally.”
If you’re sold, curious, or even a little skeptical, we invite you to contact us. We’ll give you a free UX consultation and arm you with information on how design can lead to a substantial ROI.
…or you can just mutilate your doors with lasers retroactively to make sure they fit…
¹-Bridger, R.S. Introduction to Ergonomics. Florence, KY: CRC Press, 2008. Print.