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Nine myths that prevent companies adopting customer-centred web designs

All companies want their customers to love them, and most companies expect those customers to learn about them from their websites. So why don’t more companies design websites that place customer experience at the heart of the design process?

Van Duyne, Landay and Hong, in their book The Design of Sites, have identified nine design ‘myths’ that get in the way of doing just that. These are false arguments which are often advanced as reasons why we don’t all need to make the effort to design websites for our customers.

The truth is, if we don’t all make that effort, we are all wasting our time and money even having a website – and we’re asking all our customers to waste their time visiting it. But the counter-arguments in favour of making the customer-design effort are simple.

Myth 1: ‘Good design is just common sense’.
Yeah, right. If that were true, pretty well all sites would be well designed, whereas our experience strongly suggests otherwise. This myth leads us to think that we all know what everyone needs and wants. Wrong. Knowing this about your customers comes from research, not lazy assumptions.

Myth 2: ‘Only experts create good designs’.
Once again, many rubbish sites are designed by ‘experts’. The question is – experts at what? Anyone can learn to understand audience requirements and implement them in a web interface – if they understand why and how to do it!

Myth 3: ‘Web interfaces can be redesigned just before the site goes live’.
Well, no, actually. The key to good interface design is knowing what features your customers need and want, and how they will use them. If your site isn’t built with the right features as its ‘skeleton’, no amount of shifting the deckchairs will stop the ship from going down with all hands.

Myth 4: ‘Good design is costly and takes too long’.
The trade off is spending a little up front in audience research and development, versus spending a lot later on in help desk calls, returned merchandise and web maintenance and costly redesigns. You’ll also be spared designing functions you don’t really need to support tasks that real customers don’t value. The relevant proverb is ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.

Myth 5: ‘Good design is just cool graphics’.
Every good site must look good and by doing this show its customers that their experience of the site is valued, but this is not enough. The site must also support customers’ needs, must communicate the information they seek and give a context in which to carry out their tasks. This isn’t done with ‘cool graphics’.

Myth 6: ‘Web guidelines will guide you to good designs’.
Guidelines will help get the detail of the design right, but they can only address the way the design is implemented. Guidelines will not tell you what features to implement, what structure to use, nor the flow between pages – this comes only from understanding your customers and their needs.

Myth 7: ‘Customers can get out of trouble with a Guide or Help’.
As a last resort, if your customers know that what they want is in your site and nowhere else, they may persist in difficulty long enough to use the documentation you have provided. But if you expect them to have to use these things, they will desert your site in numbers and at speed – web users expect intuitive sites that explain themselves clearly and simply. A site that needs a book to explain itself is not a good one.

Myth 8: ‘Market research tells us all we need about customer needs’.
Of course market research is helpful, especially to discover customer attitudes and intentions – but more important than what they say is what they do. If you ask 50 customers what features your site needs you’ll sink under the combined weight of their laundry lists. If you observe five customers actually using your site, you’ll know right away what they really value in terms of content and functions.

Myth 9: ‘Quality assurance teams make sure websites work’.
Site functionality is important, broken links and search functions will impede use of the site. But software testing is purely driven by technology concerns, not customer satisfaction. A fully-operational function that no one actually needs is not a measure of success, it is a waste of time and money. ‘Just because it ain’t broke, don’t mean that folk can actually use it’.

These ‘myths’ are often advanced as reasons why user-testing and customer-focussed evaluations are a waste of resources. These counter-arguments make short work of the ‘nay-sayers’ – and show why putting your customers at the centre of the site design process is so essential to your business success.

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