At this years SXSW Interactive, myself, Marcus Lillington, Rob Borely and Steve Krug recorded a live episode of the Boagworld show to celebrate the end of season one ‘Building websites for return on investment‘. What follows is a transcript of that show. Enjoy!
Paul: Hello and welcome to the live episode of boagworld.com, the podcast for those involved with designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis!
Marcus: Wow! A thousand people in the room. Amazing.
Paul: Yeah. I can’t believe this room has filled up so much. They really should have put us in a much, much bigger room. Wow! I really appreciate all that are standing at the back. That’s great! What’s this room hold? Do you reckon about…
Marcus: It’s about a thousand…
Paul: About a thousand?!
Paul: I’m welling up! I really am welling up! Well thank you all for coming. That’s really good.
Marcus: Seriously, thank you. I wanted to ask people; you have all heard us before? Is there anybody that hasn’t heard us before, here?
Marcus: We’re ignoring those people over there!
Paul: Really? So this is an experience for you. So why are you hear, is it just because you got lost?
(Audience member responds)
Paul: For those that may not have picked up the audio there, she thought there was another podcast in here! What show were you hoping to hear?
Audience Member: Stuff you should know…
Paul: Stuff you should know is a good show. Yes, excellent. Yeah, you can go if you want to, we won’t be offended! You’re just going to stay here until they turn up, are you? We should’ve done it together. We could’ve doubled the numbers, although the room is so full…
Marcus: What are you thinking, Paul?
Paul: How stupid of me! So what this basically is is a live episode of Boag World that is kind of a culmination and wraps up the end of season one. It’s not really season one, but you know what I mean. So we’re going to give a kind of overview, a question and answer time of the topics that we’ve covered so far in this season. If you want to find out more about the season, you can go to boagworld.com/season/1, if you want to tweet about it use the hash tag #bwlive1. I suppose I should before going any further introduce our guests which consist of, on the end Rob Borley who has been on the show before, round of applause for Rob!
Rob: Hi! Wow, you guys are great.
Paul: Marcus Lillington, my wonderful co-host.
Paul: You weren’t supposed to clap at that point! And our special guest star; the very wonderful, with his book in front of him ready to pimp, Steve Krug everybody!
Paul: Hello Steve!
Marcus: Thank you Steve for coming along.
Paul: Yes. For making it at the un-earthly hour of 11 o’clock…
Steve: I’m not a morning person…
Paul: No. Neither am I… I was tweeting a couple of days ago about how I don’t get people that are awake in the morning, it just doesn’t make sense, does it? Life doesn’t start ’til after midday! Right! OK! Because this is all about seas on 1, what we are going to do is go through the different topics that we’ve covered over the last 6 weeks on season 1 and we’re going to do questions. So it’s all going to be question driven, alright? So that mean that you giuys have to get up and ask questions, if you don’t I do have some questions tha have been give by people on Twitter, but I much prefer live questions really, that’s a lot more interesting. Ooh, this person is desperately trying to get through the door. (shouts) HELLO! Good entrance! So we’re goint to go through different topics and you’re going to ask questions. ou’ve got to take part in this otherwise this is going to be the worst episode ever! Also, the other thing is at any stage if any of you feel like one of the panel are not performing well enough, just go up to the microphone and say “I vote so-and-so out…”. They get to sit down and then someone else who wants to answer the question can come up on stage. So that’s how we’re going to work it. Does that sound like a plan?
(some whoops from the audience)
Paul: I’ll take that as a yes…
Marcus: We’re locking the door by the way. You can’t get out!
Paul: now obviously because were talking about season one of the show, the first thing I’m going to do is pimp the book that goes with it; so you’ve got to buy the book at boagworld.com/season/1, but I’m actually going to change things a little bit, because of the current situation in Japan, we thought we would raise some money for that and get you all giving, so what we’re going to do is if you go to sxsw4japan.org/boagworld. What I want you to do is give any amount of money. If you give over $5 then email me afterwards and you’ll get a free copy of the book. OK? And that applies whether you are in the room now or whether you are listening to this podcast in a years’ time, I don’t really care, so go along to that URL and get involved. So basically you’re going to get a book for free if you give. So that’s the idea. So enough of that, let’s move on to the show in the main. We’re going to start off by looking at the subject of business subjectives, so what you are seeing on screen is what we are talking about now, business subjectives, think of your questions… now. We’re going to move to success criteria in a minute so you can start planning ahead. What I’m going to do now is just drop this microphone back in its place.
Marcus: Paul running. That was interesting! Runaway!
Paul: So what we’re going to do is kick off with a question that I’ve already got pre-prepared, but I’m going to wait for you guys, you are going to support me and do some questions. So our first question is from Matt Curry; who remembers Matt? He’s been on the show before. Nobody.
Paul: Matt will be really pleased to hear that!
Steve: I a hall with a thousand people! That’s quite remarkable!
Paul: That is quite remarkable! No-one out of a thousand people! Matt Curry is one our clients actually and we’ve done a lot of work with Matt in the past and he’s a bit of an analytics guru. Now he says “Does all of our work on websites actually matter?” This is a question for the panel and the audience. Does any of our work on websites actually matter? Should we actually be putting all of the emphasis on our product, out price and our positioning and should we be more focussed on that than we are on worrying about the website? So does anybody want to kick off on that? Rob, you know Matt. You have to deal with him daily.
Rob: I know what Matt’s answer would be!
Paul: What’s Matt’s answer then?
Rob: Essentially, if you are selling stuff online, that’s the point of your website. You want to pimp your product. Potentially you could just want to make a very pretty website for the sake of making a very pretty website, but if you are running a business and you’ve got to pay the bills and you want to make some money then the product is surely the king. You want to get that out there. That’s the point of it. That’s why we do what we do.
Marcus: I’m not sure I understand the question, but I think what he is trying to say is is it worth investing in an on-going way on your website, you just slap products up, put a price next to it and hope people will come and buy it, or should you be continually testing, refining and making your website better? And I’m going to pimp your talk tomorrow, where the work we’ve done for the company he used to work for, basically made a massive difference to how much product they sold. So the answer to the question is; yes, you should be refining your website.
Paul: I don’t think that’s the question.
Marcus: I’ve turned into one I could answer!
Paul: That’s a good plan! I think it’s more getting at that we invest so much money and time getting our websites right when perhaps there are other things like perhaps, you know, is the product right? Is the pricing for the product right? Is the way that we’re pitching the product to the market, you know all of those things are just as important really as the website itself, maybe. I don’t know. Steve, have you got an opinion?
Steve: I have a vague opinion. I went to see Josh porter yesterday and he was talking about metrics and in answering one question he essentially said what I think which is that you got to have good content. A lot of people kind of forget that the content should be really good and that may have more impact than any of these other things that you can do. So if I had the choice between having a flashy website and having a really good product, I’d probably choose a really good product.
Rob: As an agency it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to produce a fantastic website for your client and that becoming the being-and-end-all, you become very precious about what we’re doing, you know, we want something that we can use as a portfolio piece, but actually the client is interested in selling their products that’s why they’ve employed us.
Steve: And it does raise the question when you are brought in as an outsider id your client is selling a product that nobody is actually going to want, whether you tell them that or not, which is always a neat question.
Paul: Who would have the guts to turn round to a client and say “your product is shit!”? I don’t know whether I would! It’s a hard one, isn’t it? (to Steve) Have you done that?
Steve: Not in those exact words, but I have done it! I mean I sort of feel that it’s my first responsibility when I go in and I’ve look at what the client’s doing, kind of my first responsibility is to say “is anybody going to want to buy this?”, because it’s probably a question they’ve considered, but they’re so panicky that they can’t really do anything about it. They’ve stopped asking it internally. So if you are coming in as an outsider I feel like you’re doing them a disservice if you don’t at least raise the question again.
Marcus: Are you talking about from a start-up point of view or…
Steve: Anybody. I mean if it’s Amazon, you know they’re… If it’s been a going concern then it may be part of it, part of something new that they’re doing where you basically want to say “is this a good idea?”.
Paul: Oh! We’ve got a question!
Question: I’ve been working on a lot of mobile design lately and it’s been frustrating at times because were taking a rather large site with complicated navigation and being told to put it into a mobile site, which is difficult. I want to know what your take, or anyone’s take on designing for mobile first and is that something, a trend that we’ll see more and more of in the future, or do we just need to rethink how we’re doing the two different things?
Paul: Rob, you’re really into mobile at the moment, aren’t you?
Rob: A little it, yeah. You have to treat the site as something different. The mobile site is a different thing to the website and you can’t necessarily translate one directly into the other. It has to be a different project if you like—a different way of thinking. So if you’re just trying to take a complicated site and make it fit on a tiny little device, it’s not going to work. So yeah, I think you have to treat it as something new.
Paul: Have you done much in the way of usability testing on mobile sites?
Steve: Well, none.
Paul: None? Fair enough then!
Steve: I actually don’t do that much usability testing anymore because it’s silly for someone to pay my rates when I’m telling them that they can do it themselves. Hasn’t there been a huge flurry of articles about doing what you said, about doing the mobile first? And then expanding that out into the full web presence if you’re a start-up and there seems to be… I know I’ve read some of those articles and forgotten them immediately because I don’t work on mobile so… But there does seem to be a certain logic to it.
Question: There have been a lot of articles about it and what I love about that approach that you go to the essence if the site right away. You’re forced to and then if you need to you can build it out further for the full site.
Paul: I’m personally not sure I would even take that approach. It’s like implying that a mobile site is the essence of a bigger website in my opinion isn’t really the right way of thinking about it because I think they’ve both got, going back to our subject, business objectives. I think often they have very different business objectives that you’ve got your main business website, your main desktop website, whatever we’re going to call it, has one set of things that it’s going to want to achieve, while the mobile site has probably a different set, because you’ve got to take into account things like context that somebody using a mobile device, they themselves are going to have different tasks they want to complete. There isn’t necessarily massive overlap. There could be, but not always. So I think, as Rob said, they’re almost two separate projects that may include some similarities but they may not. There’s a cost associated with that which I think at the moment a lot of clients aren’t willing to pay, they much prefer to essentially have a stripped down version of their site as their mobile one. Which is a fair enough starting point because this is a new area, they don’t have huge numbers of mobile users yet, that’s probably a good entry point, but I think ultimately you are talking about two separate sites in my opinion.
Rob: I think it’s analogous to when the web first came along. So a shop might have a print catalogue where you write down the numbers and you phone them up and you’d do it over the phone, but when the website came along you didn’t just try and take your print catalogue and turn it into a website and I think it’s the same with mobile. I think it’s a different medium and needs to be looked at in a different way.
Paul: Yep, go for it! You’ve got a question.
Question: I’m a technical director at my agency and one of the biggest things as a technical person is there’s this clash between our designers and our developers and so one of the things that we try to do is make money but our designers always want to make a one show website. A website that is going to blow everybody’s brains out of the water and all that stuff. Back to the first question that you asked; how do you educate a designer to understand that not every website is a creative opportunity, but more of a business opportunity and I think that there is a difference between scenistic beauty as opposed to really good web standards like Amazon versus a beautiful CDN+B website or something like that. How do you educate your designers to understand the difference?
Paul: I don’t think you can educate designers, they are not intelligent enough! I mean what do you do? It’s like trying to train a cat!
Steve: That’s what you really believe isn’t it?
Paul: It is! Absolutely! I used to be a designer and I feel I can speak with confidence about them.
Marcus: Used to be? You’re admitting it now?
Steve: You’re a recovered designer?
Marcus: This is similar to how do you train, or how do you inform a client into what’s the right design for them rather than the design they think they want and the same would apply to a designer that’s wanting to design for himself or herself. It’s about understanding that a website has a specific audience or audiences and the design of the site should be for those audiences, not for the designer, not for the client necessarily. So it’s basically teaching people that. That’s the starting point if you like. You should be designing for your audiences.
Steve: I do have an answer for this one. I told Paul beforehand that I may have answers for like, two questions! This is one of them. I’ve been on a hobbyhorse these last couple of years trying to get people to do their own usability tests and I’m emphatic about it because I find having done this stuff for twenty years, I find that watching usability tests are kind of the only transformative experiences out there and you need a transformative experience and the reason why you need a transformative experience is because [you need] these people on your team; designers, developers, you’ve got marketing people, you’ve got whatever and they all look at the site differently—it’s like the Indians and elephants, whatever! The problem is that when designers look at a website, any website, what they’re looking for is a pleasant aesthetic experience. That’s what they enjoy—there are endorphins involved! If they are looking at a website that has elements of sophisticated design, or some new aesthetic elements, there are endorphins. So the result is that they think that this is what everybody likes about websites and the reason that they are doing the job that they are doing is because that’s how they feel. So we’re talking about very deep-seated emotional response that actually got them into the career they’re in and it’s the same with developers. Developers like looking at a websites that are very complicated, that have a lot of moving parts. They like reverse engineering in their head, they like trying to figure out how it works and that releases endorphins for them. So they assume that everybody like figuring out how things work. So it’s very hard for them to get past that and I find the one experience that I’ve seen that actually works to get people past that is if you get them to observe even a couple of usability tests where they’re watching people actually use the stuff, because nobody spends time watching how people use the stuff unless it’s in a usability test. Who does that? None of these people have any time to do that. So if you can make it attractive enough and easy enough for them to observe a usability test, very often it is to some extent transformative they come out with a little bit more of a realisation that not everybody is like them and nor everybody wants the same thing that they want.
Marcus: We saw the guys a Twitter doing exactly that in a talk yesterday morning it was a wonderful lesson to take away from…
Paul: They did this really interesting thing where they actually project the usability test sessions onto the wall in the room were the designers and developers were working, so they had no choice but to see [what was going on]. Oh dear! It’s Craig! Hello Craig!
Craig: Hi. Just to build on what the previous question was saying and the discussion just now; is there space for a designer to have a style or is that something that should be avoided because you are focusing on the client, on their needs? Or is there a separate genre, a separate industry that does benefit from having a personal style and a separate area that doesn’t.
Paul: That’s a good question. In my opinion, every designer has a style; they can’t help but have a style because your design style is influenced by your personality and who you are. For example, I’d love to design like Cameron Moll, who does beautiful subtle design, but I’m not a beautiful subtle person therefore I can’t design like Cameron! So there’s one of two things that happens; either you get clients who go to a designer specifically for that style, because that style ties in with their brand or whatever, but then you get other groups and I think Headscape is probably an example of this, where we try and keep quite a diverse style so that we just mould in with what the client’s branding is and I don’t think either is right or wrong and I don’t think that necessarily damages the business objectives or the success criteria of the usability of the site because there is almost a difference between an aesthetics and usability and functionality. You can make a perfectly useable site with a very specific style to it would be my feeling.
Marcus: fashions change as well, that’s another thing, but you can argue that’s part of creating the right site for a user. We need to move on.
Paul: Shall we move on? Let’s move on to the next section. Sorry was somebody going to jump in?
Steve: I was. It turns out I have an answer for everything. I think there isn’t really and inherent conflict between usability and design, but I think sites should be as aesthetically designed as you can. I love sites that are really nicely designed, as long as they work! That’s kind of the caveat, as long as they work too!
Paul: Absolutely! Right, we have a question. We’ll move on to success criteria and how to measure the success or otherwise of your website and we have a question! Yes…
Question: I have a question about related to something that came up a while ago about the end of the personal website, about do individuals need websites anymore? About individuals and their personal brand and their personal business objectives and I’ve seen the same thing starting to crop up around companies, watching the Super Bowl ads last year had the company’s corporate website listed as their URL and this year a lot of them had their Facebook fan pages instead as their URLs. Do companies still need websites? Does every company need a website? There are a lot of companies that don’t really have any business objectives with their own website and they really should be going out to Facebook and those other kind of channels. What does the panel think about that?
Paul: Good question!
Rob: I think a lot of it depends on your audience. In a different life I do a lot of youth work and work with a lot of teenagers and for most of them, for teenagers Facebook is the internet. They find YouTube videos because it’s on the internet; they know what’s going on in the world because it’s on Facebook. The places to go, the things to visit, the links to see; all comes to them via their Facebook feed. So, especially if you’ve got a brand that’s aimed at that demographic, then it could be argued that you don’t need your own website, you just need a Facebook place. Whether or not everything will shift that way…
Paul: Has anybody got an opinion on that, what you guys think about that? Nobody has opinions. Oh yes! Come join us ! We’ll throw Marcus off! Marcus is now being replaced. What’s your name?
Anita: My name is Anita Cader.
Paul: Hi Anita! So what do you think about this?
Anita: Well, it depends on what type of company you have and who you are marketing to. If you are just an individual and you are looking to socialise with people then maybe Facebook is all you need, but if you’re a corporation and you’re marketing to other corporations, then you need a bigger brand, a bigger site to talk about what your products are, what your services and you’ll need a corporate site as a base to house all your information.
Paul: That’s the interesting thing about business objectives in my opinion is that your business objective might be to sell more widgets. Does it really matter where you sell those widgets? If you look at someone like Amazon for example, who sell lots of different things. You could go to the Amazon website to buy stuff, but anybody can have an affiliate link with Amazon so you can buy it from other people’s sites. It’s the selling process that matters, rather than the medium through which you are selling it. Twitter is another great example. Twitter would never have taken off if the only place you could tweet was on the twitter.com website but actually they opened up their API, this is a bit controversial right now because they’re say that they’re going to close that down a bit more, but the principal being that you could, go and buy stuff from, sorry, tweet from anywhere. So I think that whether you are delivering it via Facebook or a Linkedin profile or anywhere else, it doesn’t really matter as long as it meets those business objectives.
Anita: Right. And I guess it also depends on, say you are a travel site. You might want to have a social site as well, so you want to be on Facebook, you want to be on Twitter and you are wanting to capture those users so that they will then come to your travel site and book travel. So it is definitely important to have that face and that marketing presence.
Paul: Cool! Good. Shall we take the next question?
Question: This goes back to an earlier point you were making about what your role is with business objectives, but it also ties in with success criteria and the question is when you are evaluating a client or a job, what is your position on; you look at a project and say there really isn’t much hope for success. Do you still take that on, do you try to work with what you have or do you just say “this isn’t going to work out for us.”?
Paul: Ooh, that’s a good question.
Rob: Definitely a question for Marcus.
Paul: That’s a Marcus question! Would you accept a client, would you let them sign on the dotted line if you didn’t think we could meet their success criteria?
Marcus: No I wouldn’t and the reason being that, and I’ve talked about this many times over the years, that’s just one example of why you just need to walk away sometimes. If you know you can’t deliver then you’re going to end up losing money. You are going to be in a position where you’re not going to make any profit on the project because you’re going to fix a set price for the work that you’re going to do and it’s not going to deliver what the client wants therefore you are going to end up doing more and more and more and more work and it’s going to become a difficult relationship etc., so yes, I’d walk away basically.
Paul: Walk away. Good advice. Walk away from clients; they are nothing but trouble! Ok, let’s move on too user focus stuff! Anybody got any usability [questions]? We’ve got Steve Krug here! Come on! Usability questions!
Steve: Next gag!
Paul: Nobody cares about usability, Steve. Sorry to disappoint you!
Rob: They must have all read your book, Steve! They haven’t got any questions!
Paul: I’ve actually got some questions… Ok. So here’s a question. I don’t know if it’s directly related to usability. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about how, have you ever heard anybody say something along the lines of making a site useable is like making food edible and that actually we should aspire to make it more than just edible but delightful and wonderful. So there is a lot of talk about your websites delightful and adding these little things in and this is question from Ben Hopper he says most design delighters seem to revolve around the idea of humour or making people smile but is that always appropriate? What alternatives are there to just making people smile but still giving them that wow factor? Does that make sense as a question? You’ve got no opinion, I can tell…
Steve: Well there are these funeral sites that are pretty humorous…
Paul: You don’t want to make people laugh at a funeral site really!
Steve: No. I have to say, I haven’t expanded into the delight world in my business. I know a lot of people are writing some very interesting stuff about, ok, you can make it work ok, but you should be aspiring to more than that.
Paul: Do you think that we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves? Is there an arrogance to say “Oh yeah, we’ve kind of dealt with this…”?
Steve: No, because some people can do it. I mean some people are completely capable of doing sites that actually go beyond and engage people in a very active way and are satisfying and rewarding and enjoyable and I think that’s great. It’s kind of like; should a site be aesthetically pleasing? It’s sort of in the same category. Yes, if it works. Don’t get ahead of yourself and start focussing your attention on making it delightful when it still doesn’t work. You know; if people can’t go in and find what they need or do what they need to do. So I think it’s a great thing and I love sites that make me feel really engaged with it, but not if they don’t work.
Paul: Work first, and then build on that.
Steve: Particularly, don’t try it if you are not good at it! There’s nothing worse or more cringe worthy than somebody who’s tried to build the light into a site and they have no knack for it at all and they couple it with what they think is a really exciting idea, but my test for whether you’ve got are really good new idea is you pitch that idea, you know, you do the elevator pitch to a half dozen people and if they all say basically “that’s a fabulous idea when are you going to launch it?”, the it’s a good idea! If they say “That’s a really great idea.” Don’t go there! Everybody thinks something is a good idea in the abstract If it’s really a good idea, people are going to get very very jazzed about it.
Paul: It reminds me, with these design delighters, it’s a bit like when somebody tells jokes but can’t tell them very well. I’m just saying. Another question about user focussed stuff.
Question: I do have a question for you, Steve, about usability. I teach a university class, like an intro to web publishing and I have all my students read articles that are about five or ten years old just to introduce them to these topics and one of the things I have them read is Jacob Nielsen’s ‘Usability 101’ and he says that usability is a quality attribute and he break it down into five different attributes beyond that. The first is ‘learnability’ and that’s what I think most people think of when the think about usability; how easy is the interface to learn and people often quote your book title, ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, in that regard, but two others that he also lists I think aren’t as talked about as much; he talks about ‘efficiency’, like once you’ve learned the design how easy is it for you to keep doing tasks and ‘memorability’, after you’ve come back after a while, how easy is it for you to pick up where you left off and I was wondering if you could talk about those things, because I think that the ‘learnability’ part is over emphasized, that a lot of time you learn a design and then it becomes tedious and so I always tell people don’t make me think, but don’t bore me later either. Where would you see all that fitting in to the web and web applications, websites and usability?
Steve: I’m Jacob’s biggest fan! Jacob comes in for a lot of flak because he takes extreme opinions, but I learned a lot of what I know from Jacob, ‘cause he’s been doing it forever and he’s really smart and he’s really nice, I like him personally. So I always read alert boxes. I remember that one and he’s right and other people talked about those aspects of usability, that there are these different aspects of usability. You’re probably right, I don’t think about it that way, but you’re probably right that we do focus too much on learnability, I focus intensely on learnability because I feel like if it’s not learnable then the other ones don’t matter and I see so many sites where basically you go to the site and you just don’t get it! In fact it’s the biggest problem, you go to the site and you just don’t get it and that’s often not that hard of a problem to fix but people don’t fix it. So I do focus on learnability. Efficiency and memorability are very important. Efficiency is much more important if it’s a site that you are going to be using more than once. So for instance if you’ve got a web application or something, efficiency becomes important. For a lot of sites, efficiency isn’t all that important as long as the drag of the site doesn’t exceed your interest in getting the thing done or bought or whatever and memorability is sort of the same. If you’re not going to come back then memorability doesn’t matter. So those two become much more important if it’s something you’re going to use on a recurring basis which is not true of most sites. If you think about most sites that you go to, you’ll figure them out once then you’ll never go back there again. So they are important, but I think the focus on learnability isn’t necessarily misplaced because if you don’t get that right then the other ones don’t matter.
Paul: Absolutely. Next question! Yes…
Question: I’d love for you to talk a little bit about usability testing…
Steve: I’m afraid that’s unlikely! I can’t talk a little bit about it!
Question: OK, if I clarify a little bit. We have a challenge a little bit where I work at knowing how extensive to make at test and where to fit it in the process from the sketch stage to the polishing in Photoshop stage. Sometimes we test at the end if it’s a very small site and of course as a designer/developer I know where to click so it works perfectly well, but we often feel it’s being squeezed into the timeline and sometimes budget doesn’t allow, but obviously the main thing is to be useable so that’s something that we have challenges with.
Paul: Have you read this?
Steve: Oh! That’s not why I put that there! I didn’t put it there for that.
Question: No, I actually haven’t.
Steve: He’s holding up my book!
Paul: This is Steve Krug’s ‘Rocket Surgery Made Easy’. I love this book, partly because it talks about having this one date every month where you’re continually testing and not to say “OK, once we’ve finished the wireframe, then we’re’ going to test.” Or “Once we’ve finished the design comps we’re going to test.”, instead it says “We’re going to have this date and wherever we are at this date we’re going to test.” which I think is a really good discipline. That’s the one thing that I really took away from this.
Steve: I didn’t have it here for you to hold up, I had it here in case somebody asked a question and I had to remember what I’d said!
Marcus: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Steve: I was telling you before, every once in a while somebody will quote something from the book and I’m like, “That’s in there? That’s not bad!”. Paul just made my main point. My maxim in the book about testing is a morning a month, that’s all we ask. I think it’s much better to do testing on… Another maxim is to start earlier than you think, because you never start too early, even if you’ve got a sketch on a napkin you should be testing that because you can learn useful stuff. It won’t take too long and you’ll learn useful stuff, but I do think routinizing it is very important because the tendency has always been to say “Well ok, when are we going to be usability test? Well we’ll usability test when we have wireframes, and then we’ll usability test when we have comps and then we’ll usability test when we have a first working prototype” and the fact is that those dates always get pushed and then you’re trying to recruit people around some date that’s probably not going to be exactly where you think it’s going to be and the net is that you end up doing less testing than you should whereas if you say “alright, well we’re going to test one morning a month and we’re basically going to be able to do it every month because we’re only going to test three users, because three users are going to get you more than you can fix in a month. Routinizing has all kinds of advantages because people know that the third Thursday of every month is usability testing. You pick that day during a time of the month where people don’t have that much work, so it’s easier for them to come and observe which is very important and it makes it easier to do your recruiting. You know that every third Thursday we’re going to need there people in here to do testing and you test what you’ve got, because you’ll always have something that’s worth testing
Paul: How does that work in our situation where we run an agency, so we’re working with a variety of clients at different times? I can understand how that kind of works if you are testing internally within an organisation, but that doesn’t fit as well if you’re and agency that’s going through a project. Does that make sense?
Steve: That makes perfect sense and I don’t know because I’ve never thought about your case.
Paul: Ok, that’s cool.
Steve: I had in mind people who are out there in the field who had been handed the assignment of doing usability.
Paul: In my head it can still work because you just have potentially a date where you test and you test whichever project is best suited at that particular time for doing testing.
Steve: The only tricky bit there is if you actually want to do some recruiting of particular audiences then you wouldn’t know, but you also know that one of my maxims is that recruit loosely and grade on a curve because I don’t think having people from your target audience make all that much difference.
Marcus: I think it’s up to our project managers to think about it from a project by project basis and work it into the project. What do you think Rob?
Paul: Yes, what do you think Rob, Mr project manager?
Rob: I think it’s something we find really hard to do because it’s not part of our culture yet to test continually. We are, as an agency and I don’t know about the rest of the industry, but as an agency we still fall into the trap of testing right at the end. And then what happens when it’s broken? Well, you know, we’ll put it out anyway!
Marcus: I have to challenge him on this!
Steve: This is how you used to do it!
Marcus: I believe we do design testing very early on in projects, Rob.
Marcus: So I’d just like to point that out!
Rob: It has to part of the project plan. When you are drawing up your plan, you have to decide when you are going to do the testing, how often you are going to do and you have to put in your plan so that the dates don’t move. If you add it as an ethereal thing, it’ll always push out—you’ll leave it right to the end and it’ll get squeezed.
Marcus: I did ask for that.
Paul: Do you think this monthly cycle applies to all websites or are there occasions where if a website isn’t changing that much, then surely testing it every month would be over the top?
Steve: I don’t think so. You should always be testing. There is always something new that you’ve introduced or if there hasn’t then there’s something that’s not performing lately as well as you think it should be—there’s always something you’re worried about. And if that’s not the case and none of those apply then test some competitors.
Paul: I like that idea. Testing competitors is a very good idea and something that I don’t think we do anywhere near as much.
Steve: Nobody does!
Paul: You’ve got this free prototype.
Steve: Exactly! Somebody went to the trouble of building a full scale working prototype of a different design approach to what you are doing and the left it out! The left the keys in the car! They left it out there for you to use. Do some testing and you’ll learn a lot of stuff.
Paul: Absolutely! I totally agree with that. Anymore questions on usability before we move on to calls to action? Ok, we’re going to move on. Calls to action. So we spent a whole show talking about calls to action and how to go about that I’ve got some questions that were sent in on that but if you want to go up and ask any, that’s great. Andy Newell says we use a lot of psychological tricks when it comes to calls to action, don’t we? You read about them all time. I written about the little psychological tricked used to nudge users in the direction you want to go and Andy is asking whether manipulating people is ethical and whether it’s actually ok for us to play off of peoples psychological weaknesses in order for the to complete calls to action. I just thought that was a really interesting question to ask. Are we as bad as marketeers now, where we try and trick people into doing what we want them to do? Has anybody go any opinions on that either in the audience or on the stage?
Rob: Yes. That’s what we do.
Paul: And you are all right with that, are you?
Rob: Yeah! I think so.
Rob: It’s a bit like going to a super market. You go to a supermarket and you get to the checkout and all the Mars bars, the sweets and all the chocolates and stuff is there, at the checkout because they know that when mum or dad is there and they’ve got two screaming kids because they are in the queue, they know that if they reach over and give them a Mars bar it’ll keep them quiet and they’ll sell more Mars bars. It’s exactly the same thing, isn’t it? It’s playing off the psychology of that situation and people have always done that. So we are doing exactly what they’re doing. No different.
Paul: What do you think Steve?
Steve: This hit me over the head. I was listening to a talk about a year ago and it hit me over the head and I thought I’d like to write something about it, I haven’t had a chance. The way I ended up thinking about it was I’m a little bit concerned, about usability in particular, because usability is moving towards the dark side. Originally, we were user advocates and our job was to make life easier for users, to make sure they actually could do what they wanted to do. Now we are being asked more and more to make judgements and find proof about whether or not people are successfully being manipulated. I don’t mind manipulating people. I mean, I’m getting manipulated all the time and I expect it, it’s the price you pay for a lot of things and people are going to try and manipulate you. I’m concerned about usability as a profession that we’re going down some slippery slope without realising it and transforming into something else.
Marcus: Would an example be when you move towards a shopping basket or a donation page, all the navigation disappears so you can’t get away from the page. That’s a perfect example for me of manipulation, but there is a difference between manipulation and tricking people and tricking people is wrong.
Paul: What’s the difference then? It’s easy to say that…
Steve: I had an interesting quasi-ethical dilemma once. I was teaching a workshop and used to have people submit URLs and we would do a demo test, actually I still do that come to think of it, I do one demo test based on one of the URLs of a person that’s come to the workshop. At this point I won’t name the name, but it was this company that advertises on TV to sell CDs that will teach you how to use your computer and software and you get one free. It turned out that we did the test on it and it turned out that when you went through the thing, and I knew this because we go through and do the test beforehand, so I did this live test and turned out that the participants going through it realised after a while that there is fine print in there whereby they would be getting this free CD and they could ship it back, but they not only had to ship it back but they had to go in and do something else to say that they didn’t want to keep receiving them and if they didn’t do it in time they paying $150 and it was clearly trickery as a bad kind of trickery. The person that was representing the website was in the audience and I’m kind of like “is this what it looks like?” and [he said] “Yeah, it is actually.”
Paul: I guess it depends, with this whole manipulation thing, it depends whether you are using the power for good or evil really, doesn’t it? I’m quite happy to, because we do work on a lot of charity websites, I’m quite happy to pull out all the stops when it comes to encouraging people to make a donation on a charity website, I’m kind of fine with that, but in other situation…
Marcus: But is selling stuff unethical? Surely not? People sell stuff to make a living.
Paul: I’m not saying selling stuff is unethical, what I’m saying is that manipulating people into buying something that they don’t want in unethical.
Marcus: In that example, that was the old book club model, where you had to sign something in blood before they’d take you off their list and then they had your bank account details and were going to rip you off. That’s wrong.
Paul: The other thing that really annoys me is when you go to website and you sign up for a service and it’s one of these monthly reoccurring services and you want to cancel it for whatever reason and you can’t find the option to cancel it because they’ve made it so tiny and difficult. For me it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. So I think that ultimately that level of manipulation is bad for your brand and is bad for your website. So you’ve got to really careful with this stuff, where you draw the line I think. Yes. We have a question.
Question: With regards to your call to action being a donation. I work at RBC Ministries and we do the ‘Our Daily Bread’ daily devotionals and that is our call to action. We give all the free devotionals, you can get it on the web and in print, but we don’t have pictures of orphans to put up on our website to say “Hey, donate to us!” How do we perfect that call to action?
Paul: So we’re talking about a call to action to encourage people to donate, but you are not comfortable with having starving children looking poorly…
Marcus: It’s not appropriate. It’s not relevant. How do you do it on the Boag world site?
Paul: Do what?
Marcus: Ask people to donate things. You’ve done it in the past, haven’t you?
Paul: I just do it very matter-of-factly.
Marcus: That’s what I was going to say. Be up front.
Paul: I often think people respond very well to honesty. Obviously there’s loads of things that you in terms of your call to action; how they’re positioned, where they’re positioned, the size of them, the wording that is used on them and all of that kind of stuff, but I think at the end of the day sometimes the best approach is just an honest, straightforward appeal to people. I think we sometimes make the assumption that people are inherently selfish and I don’t think they always are and sometimes they do want to help and it’s just a matter of making that clear and easy and non-confusing.
Rob: This is actually linked to the previous question about manipulation, because the whole idea of putting the staving child on the website or on the TV ad obviously must work because all of the major charities do it. You only got to flick through any kind of cable network and you find the off-beat channels and it’s all the charities showing you pictures of starving children and saying “give us money”, so it must work.
Marcus: Or polar bears…
Rob: Is that just manipulating people?
Steve: Certainly that’s manipulation. Everything that we do manipulates the audiences mind to some degree. It’s not a binary thing of manipulating or not, it’s a gradient from manipulation to deception. Everybody has to draw their own line when it turns from one to the other. Just a thought I had on your donation site; the trouble with the web in your situation working against you is that it is such a visual medium, so if you don’t have pictures of something, it’s very hard to influence people with merely text. Just and idea of the top of my head, could you show pictures of the after picture, rather than the starving children before picture? Perhaps the results that the donations bring in, if you could visualise that, that might be an approach.
Paul: I think that’s spot on, especially what you were saying about it not being a binary thing. I think you are absolutely spot on. I terms of the second point you made about showing the positives, we’re actually working with a charity right now, a big lobbying group, over here in the US and we’ve strongly encouraged them, they are an environmental lobby group and the answer is not to show birds covered with oil. The answer here is to show that we have actually overcome these problems, we are positive, we’ve got a positive message, because I do think starving children and birds covered with oil and that kind of thing, people feel like they’ve been banged over the head tame and time again; you’re crap and you need to donate, you’re not doing well enough, you’re not saving the planet etc., when actually a more positive message sometimes works a lot better.
Steve: Exactly. What you are trying to do is evoke emotion and starving children photos and bird covered with oil certainly provokes emotion. The question is do you want a positive of negative emotion and which one works better? Unfortunately, it’s probably the negative that tends to sell more product or make more donations, but you get back to that moral gradient between manipulation and…
Paul: Sometimes you need the positive to differentiate yourself from everyone else that’s doing the negative. I everyone is showing birds covered with oil, perhaps you need to be the person that shows the clean up afterwards to differentiate yourself.
Steve: That could be a good differentiator.
Paul: Yes. Excellent. Thank you that was brilliant. Yes! Next!
Question: Well it kind of goes along with it. I just think that the interesting thing now is that we’ve had advertising and marketing, we’ve been bought and bartered for so long now it seems nowadays people are just used to it and everybody turning into sheep. You need to make the decision for them because a lot of people don’t make a decision anymore. If you don’t manipulate them, somebody else is going to. So from a business stand point, if you don’t, it somebody else is.
Marcus: Doesn’t make it right though, does it?
Question: Honesty is a great way to go, right. Eventually it’d be great for that to be a new direction to go away from advertising, but the thing is now it’s everywhere and a new service come to Twitter now, it’s got to turn into advertising and marketing. Everything is. People don’t make decisions for themselves anymore, someone has to.
Question: It is interesting. I like honesty too but everybody’s doing it because they have to.
Paul: I do think things are getting quite interesting with the web as well in terms of, Gary Vaynerchuk is talking about the ‘thank you’ economy and that actually this idea that if you give somebody something they feel obliged to give something back. That’s manipulation as well. My favourite example of this was the Obama campaign. Essentially their call to action on their website is donate now and we’ll give you a free t-shirt if you donate over a certain amount of money. So they motivated people to donate by giving them something in return. Of course what they were giving them was a massive big bill board that people walked around with saying “I think Obama’s wonderful!” So it was a win-win situation for them. I think that kind of manipulation is very very clever personally. Were running out of time and I want to move on to this idea of refining your website. It’s quite hard this idea of, especially if you are working internally within an organisation or if you’re an agency, persuading a client that redesigning the website once every three years is not the right way to go and actually they should be continually evolving their website over time is a much more beneficial way to work on their website I was wondering if anybody, panel, audience, whoever, have got any opinions about how to convince clients or convince management that they need to be continually investing in their websites. Anybody got an opinion on that?
Paul: Go. Right. Marcus.
Marcus: Well, just interestingly, I think it was Craig mentioned to me that he went to a talk, probably wasn’t Craig, probably someone else, yesterday where basically the guy was saying that’s not right. There is a case where we do need to start again from the ground up.
Paul: Really? Ok. I’m paying attention now Marcus.
Marcus: I can’t remember why! It was to do with the fact that there is a point you reach where you can refine, refine and refine and refine and refine, you can’t get any better. So you have to start again to get past that point, to get to here. So you’ve got your site, you refine it, you refine, you it refine it, you can get to point A, but if you want to get to point B, you might actually have to start again and scrap the lot. That was the elevator pitch.
Steve: It was Josh Porter’s talk on metrics. Metric driven design.
Paul: So what did you think? Did you agree with that?
Steve: Well I agreed certainly with the way he was saying it. He was saying if you do metrics, like A/B testing, then A/B testing is only going to take you so far and then you’re going to reach a point of diminishing return. He had a graph that showed topographic map with a mesh and it had two bumps in it one was small and the other was big and it basically said you are here, halfway up the top of the small bump, so like a local maxima and doing metric driven design where you are basically doing A/B testing or whatever, is only going to take you to the top of that hill and it can’t get you down the slope and up to the top of the other one. If you want tot do that you basically have to step back and say, “let’s rethink this. Maybe if we refine the approach that we’re taking as much as we can, maybe we don’t have to take a new approach”. I agreed with that. I tell people when you find usability problems, I’m trying to get them to focus on the worst problems they have right now and tweaking them to get rid of them rather than waiting for the next redesign because if you say “Ok, this big problem that everybody’s running into is going to go away in our next redesign,” well the next redesign is at least six month out and it may never happen, so in the meantime people are still going to be running into that problem, when in fact you could go in and fix that problem by doing some tweaking. You could at least take it out of the category of really serious problems. I think it’s silly to wait for major redesigns to make significant changes.
Marcus: That’s been our position. This was a new way of looking at it.
Paul: It almost goes back to what we were talking about earlier with the usability and design delighter thing. I think the baseline should be refine, approve and I think for the vast majority of people they need to get that right before they start thinking about big redesigns.
Question: Paul, I’ve heard you talk about before about the constantly evolving site and I’m sure, like myself, all the agency owners who listen to this podcast are going “Yeah, yeah! That’s great!” but how do you really sell that to the client? They would first be sceptical of your agency or just the pitch themselves, how do you get them past than and to a point where they’re buying into that?
Paul: I think if it’s done right, it can be better for them financially. The problem we have at the moment is a cash flow thing that organisations have. They have this massive expenditure on getting a new site that costs them thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars or pounds or whatever your currency of choice is, the site slowly declines over time as it becomes more and more out dated, so there is only a small window where the website is it’s optimal self and it’s declining and declining and declining and then in three years time suddenly they’ve got to find another massive chunk of money to re–launch the website again, so what they’re doing all the time is having to find this big capital expenditure while if they turn it into an on–going expenditure at a much, much lower level, tweaking and refining the website, the website is running at a more optimal level continually and also they’re not having to suddenly budget in huge expenditure every three years or so. So that’s the kind of approach I take. Does it always work? No.
Question: Does it sometimes?
Paul: Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the kind of approach that I tend to take.
Question: Do you have metrics that you show them on that?
Paul: No, I just make it up as I go along! Seems to be the way I do most things! Hello!
Carrie: Hi! I’m Carrie Santi from San Francisco and I use metrics to coach my clients.
Paul: Oh, brilliant!
Carrie: I’ll say “Alright, so we’re going to do this and we’ll se how it works and you need to know if it doesn’t work we need to figure out how to change it”, and just planting that seed early on and being honest with them about your going to want to budget more for six months down the road, because they have all these ideas that we can’t test until we’re done. At least in my case.
Marcus: On-going testing makes a lot of sense to anyone. If we’re going to do multivariate or A/B testing to make your site better and perform better, then a client is going to think that’s a good idea. There will be a price tag attached with that.
Paul: Absolutely and it goes back to what we were saying about success criteria earlier, that if you don’t have success criteria in place and you can’t measure the success or otherwise of the website, and it amazes me how few clients know; a. why they’ve got a website and b. how to measure it. Right, last question of this session.
Question: You guys were talking about metrics and I’m assuming that’s mostly automated metrics that are based off of computer and what not, but what about the direct customer feedback and how that plays into refining the site and the on-going process of that?
Paul: Rob, I’m thinking about Wiltshire Farm Foods here and how they feed in customer feedback, how do they do that?
Rob: Well it’s always difficult for any site to grab email feedback or telephone feedback and actually show hoe that change or that feedback has a direct impact on because if you change clicking on a button, you can check that automatically because it’s all tracked through, but when someone calls you up and says “this doesn’t work, can you do this?” and it gets changed six month down the line you never know what that point of reference was. So you can do things like make sure you use specific email catches so that different types of query go to different places, or even set up a dedicated phone number on the website which only takes website based queries and you can track whether someone has used that phone number to launch that query. It’s not fool proof but it’s a good way of tracking that kind of thing and that’s what WFF do.
Paul: They are also constantly sending us through emails of typical queries people are having with the website so that we’ve got that feedback coming in the whole time as to what real users are saying as we work on it, so that’s always really helpful as well. Steve, you looked like you were going to say something or was I imagining it?
Steve: No, I just wanted to remind you to pimp my workshops!
Paul: Oh yes! You’ve got to pimp your workshops. This is really important. It’s going to annoy Lou Roosevelt…
Steve: I promised Lou I would pimp our workshops. We’re notoriously bad at publicising them so we have to take every opportunity that we can. Lou Roosevelt and I are once again going around and doing our daylong workshops. In fact Lou’s is called “Adaptable IA, How To Say No to Your Next Redesign.” He’s on that same team; he’s on that hobbyhorse.
Paul: Oh really? So that’s really relevant? You could have pretender that it wasn’t…
Steve: I could have. I could have just worked it in cleverly!
Paul: You see? You’re not very good at this pimping! Or manipulation!
Steve: The only thing I know is blatant self-promotion! That’s t!
Paul: That’s Fine!
Steve: in fact, I’m going to start doing a blog and I have three categories on it; usability, blatant self-promotion and other! That’s going to be it! Anyway! We’re going to be in, I do a day, Lou does a day and we’re going to be joined by Indi Young on mental models, Whitney Quesenbery on story telling for UX and Ginny Redish on writing for the web and they’re going to be in San Francisco, Atlanta and Chicago.
Paul: That sounds awesome!
Steve: It is awesome. They’re actually very good. I mean we love these people who are going with us.
Paul: You need to bring it to the UK.
Steve: Yeah. We almost did again. Lou and I have been there a couple of times. We love it and we’d love to go back but it’s just trying to work it out.
Paul: Cool! Oh, brilliant stuff! Well we’re going to skip over our final section, driving traffic, as we have run out of time, but I’ve just got this horrible feeling that we’ll need to do a joke. Are we going to do the joke?
Marcus: We don’t have to. Someone else can do a joke! Anyone got a good joke?
Paul: Any of you got a good joke? Come on! One of you has got to have a joke! It’ll be Marcus if it’s not you!
Joker: It’s real quick! A skeleton walked into a bar and said; “gimmie a beer and a mop!”
Paul: Sorry, I’m a bit slow! You want one of Marcus’ do you?
Marcus: I have actually told this joke before and I relayed it to Paul yesterday and he couldn’t remember, so I figured I could risk doing it again. A couple of hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing; his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency service. He asks the operator; “My friend is dead, what can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice says; “take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There’s a silence, then a shot is heard, the guy’s voice comes back on to the line and says; “Ok. Now what?!” That, according to the University of Hertfordshire, is the best joke in the world ever!
Paul: Was there scientific research into this?
Marcus: Yeah! Probably ten people!
Paul: We’re going to do one last thing just to finish off with. This is to prove a point to myself. Will you raise your hands if you think the intro music at he beginning of the podcast is too long.
Marcus: Yeah! Way too long.
Rob: I think I win.
Paul: Oh arse! I’m really disappointed in you! Oh well, never mind! Just to remind you, if you’ve enjoyed today’s show, whether you are here in the room or whether you’re elsewhere then please visit sxswforjapan.org/boagworld and give some money the drop me an email and you’ll get a free copy of Building Websites for a Return On Investment. Thank you very much for coming and we’ll talk to you again soon!