Some web designers, especially those with a marketing or graphic design background, say they want to build an experience – but their designed experience, no matter who the website is for, tends to be designed like a movie or a rockstar’s website – heavy on the Flash, on the intro page (complete with low-pitched ominous music), and it makes cute noises when you click on a link.
That’s great for a movie or a rockstar website. But most of us are building library, organization and company websites. What type of “experiences” should we be creating for those types of websites?
Visitors to your website want to talk – with you, and with each other. Are you providing conversation spaces? The web is FULL of conversation now – check out Amazon, most newspaper and TV news sites, YouTube, this blog, Facebook, Twitter – all spaces where conversation can happen. And conversation DOES happen, because that’s what people do. We like to talk, we like to share, we like to voice our opinion (as I hope some of you do in the comments!).
So, my simple digital experience tip for today is this – make sure to create conversation spaces on your websites. Places like comment boxes, online forums or discussion groups around a topic, Twitter accounts for feedback, online places to Ask a Librarian, etc.
Also remember to actually enable conversations once you build the space. What’s that mean? In my library’s case, we allow unmoderated comments to fly free and easy onto our digital branch. I know what some of you are thinking – “OMG, David! Don’t you have a TON of cussing, swearing, name-calling, and other highly inappropriate things being posted? How could you EVER allow that!???!!??”
Um. No. We simply don’t have that. Yes, once in awhile we have some negative comments. But why would we moderate or not show those? Instead, we respond appropriately.
But some of you will need to moderate comments for one reason or the other (i.e., those old-fashioned city attorneys who haven’t yet discovered the joys of Facebook). If you DO moderate comments, make sure to do it quickly. Same day is good. Same hour is best. Why? Because it’s a CONVERSATION. If someone starts a conversation and you don’t get around to moderating the comment for a few days … well, you have killed the conversation. And that’s really no conversation at all.
pic by Adventures in Librarianship
I had a conversation with my supervisor (Rob Banks, Deputy Director of Operations at the library) a couple days ago, and thought it was worth sharing with y’all.
We were talking about our impending website redesign (yes, we’re at it again). I had sent him a rough draft of my redesign plan, and we were talking through it. He had been reading my book on digital experiences, and that had fired off some really cool thoughts about the concept of 3rd place for him… here’s what he said that made us start thinking:
“It’s not 3rd place – it’s The Place:”
- Typically, Rob has maybe 6 windows open on his computer while at work – email, a couple of work documents he’s working on, TweetDeck (ok – does YOUR deputy director have TweetDeck open constantly? Just sayin), and a couple of websites – usually including Facebook.
- He’s doing several things at the same time … but Facebook is always on, and he’s always connected to his Facebook friends.
- When he’s not at work, Rob has a Blackberry with a Facebook app – so Facebook is always on there, too. He can connect to Facebook whenever he wants to, no matter where he is.
- Rob can still be in his physical “3rd place” and (important point) STILL BE CONNECTED to Facebook and his friends.
- And that’s the idea that needs to be translated over to our library’s digital branch.
Our library websites/digital branches will probably never be a real 3rd place to people – and that’s ok. Instead of working towards that, let’s work harder to make this now-old phrase, “be where the patrons are,” a bit more seamless.
Rob can be in his 3rd place – but he is also constantly connected to friends/colleagues/family in Facebook at the same time. Facebook, in a way, has transcended the 3rd place to be “The Place.” It’s always on, always available to him, when he wants to be there.
Our library websites/digital branches can be like this, too! So… still developing, but this is definitely going in the redesign plan.
Thoughts? How are you “always there, always on” when patrons want to reach you?
Photo by javaturtle
Let’s use Apple as an example of this. Apple computers tend to have a “simple” experience attached to them. When you pick one out, there are relatively few choices – three models to choose from (as opposed to Dell, which has LOTS of models to choose from). Macs come with all the software a consumer needs to start out – basic writing, email, photo, video, and web apps – all conveniently installed. And even those apps are simple – iMovie is extremely easy to use, for example – it’s highly visual. Even the power button is simple – it’s the only button on my Mac, as opposed to my kid’s HP laptops – they have a good 5-6 buttons that do a variety of things (including hiding the power button for the uninitiated).
But is my Mac REALLY simple? Think about iMovie again. That scrolling, visual timeline of the video is anything BUT simple to create. It’s simple for the user, sure… but I’ll bet there’s some extremely complicated coding going on on the back end of that visual scroll bar!
We can do this with our websites, too. Our goal should be this – Think simple… always. Can we have detailed functionality? Yes – as long as it doesn’t get in the customer’s way. Our goal should be to keep the customer focused on the task at hand – and that task should NEVER be to figure out how your website works. Let’s keep our website innards out of the customer’s way!
Guess what? Your website visitors are experiencing something right now. Is it good or bad? Easy or hard? Do you know? The good web designer plans for and builds deliberate experiences into a website, rather than hoping for the best.
Think about it. Visitors to your website are always experiencing something while there that goes way beyond simple usability. Designing for usability alone only goes so far. You can test for usability until you’re blue in the face … and you know what you’ll end up with? A usable website. Period. Your customers might be able to navigate your website, but hate the overall experience. They might not have reached that user enchantment phase that Kathy Sierra talks about. Since you aren’t deliberately planning out the total digital experience your visitors have while on your site, their experience will be haphazard at best. You did, in fact, create an experience. Just an unplanned one.
So how do you plan an experience? For starters, do one thing – think about it. Sit down and deliberately think through the experience you want your customers to have while on your site. Have a brainstorming session. Out of that brainstorming session, create what’s called an Experience Brief – a short, no more than one-page document describing the experience customers should have while on your website. Don’t focus on products, content, or functionality – instead, describe the experience they have while there. Here’s a post that talks a bit more about writing experience briefs.
The key to writing an experience brief is this – focus on the customer at all times. Write the experiences your customer should have. Not key user interactions, not functionality the user should be able to do – but the experience the customer should have, from their viewpoint.
So – step one to creating an experience? Purposefully create and plan that experience.