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4 Questions to Prevent an Experience That's Dead by Design

Posted by Jeannie Walters on April 29th, 2014 at 8:15 am

You’ve heard of death by PowerPoint, right? That feeling when the presenter, whether in a conference or company meeting, is reading poorly worded phrases off generic bulleted lists... It's enough to kill any enthusiasm in the room.

Doesn’t it annoy you when the people behind those conveyors of information don’t ask the appropriate questions before launching into the design process?

Unfortunately, this type of design failure is not limited to PowerPoints. Any experience you provide- for customers, attendees, or employees- can be dead by design.

Death by design can easily creep its way into your work.

Whether you’re delivering information in the form of:

  • A shiny new mobile app
  • A PowerPoint presentation
  • Your website or blog
  • Your ad copy or signage

You could be killing the customer’s interest with the experience your materials provide.

It's not just a malady afflicting “official” designers.

It can sneak into any and all content on display for your customers.

Remember this example of really poor design from the U.S. military? Following the leak/whistle-blowing of the PRISM surveillance program, the poorly-designed PowerPoint which explained the program quickly made the rounds. Instead of just criticizing the design, some designers took the initiative and redesigned the key slides to make them clear, concise and attractive.

This points to many issues with poor design. It’s not just what is nice looking and what’s not, it’s about getting information across clearly and making the experience effortless.

Great designs can die of old age.

Sometimes it's just time to let your older designs go, no matter how much work you put into them and how much you love them. Consider who your customers and how they are reaching you TODAY.

Chicago-based Vienna Beef cheated design-death by invoking the expertise of Orbit Media. They had a beautiful site, and I'm sure it served them well when it was new. But with ever-increasing mobile use along with a need to modernize and better state the values and principles of the company, it was time for a re-design.

Andy Crestodina and his incredible design team gave Vienna's site a beautiful, actionable and slick design which is seamless across platforms, easy to update, and aligns with the goals of the company as well as their customers.

Please ask yourself before designing anything:

1. What information am I trying to convey?

So simple, but let’s face it, so often overlooked. Event organizers are great at selecting speakers who are interested in sharing all of their marketing materials. Attendees don’t typically get excited over it. They attend conferences to learn, to gain foresight, to understand. Customers typically visit your website for similar reasons.

And it’s SO disappointing when the materials don't really convey anything except “WE HAVE SOMETHING TO SELL YOU AND WE WILL HARASS YOU IF I GET YOUR CONTACT INFO.” It’s even worse when the experience is lacking any originality or visually appealing materials. Throw in a monotone and an illegible chart, and you regret you won’t ever get back the precious time they have all but stolen from your life.

2. What is the MOST IMPORTANT piece of information?

Design and communication should be about action. What action would you like someone to take? Financial institutions deluge us with things that tell us, what, exactly? Overused headers, designed to grab our attention, scream things in bold like Important Information or We're On Your Side and yet who hasn't learned to gloss right over this by now?

Design, when done well, elevates the entire experience. The important information gets attention because of both what it is and the action being directed. Poor design coupled with poor communication is a recipe in apathy. No matter what is being designed, apathy is never the goal of the experience.

3. What context will the reader/customer see this in?

Context is king. We all know this! But it’s still not addressed in many parts of the experiences we create. Consider the mobile experience. If a mobile user is looking for a train schedule, consider the context of where he might be and what he might be doing when he needs this information. Don’t create a complicated design that will cause him to miss his train, or even worse: walk off the tracks!

Context of where, how, and who the user is should be at the forefront of any design. (Tweet this)

4.  Is it painless to read through? How about (gasp!) enjoyable?

I know you must love your work. You get excited writing about your services, your background and you want to share as much as you can hoping customers will see why they should invest in you/your product.

But now it’s time to get brutally honest. Is it an overload of information? Will your website badges taking up one-third of the page convince them to contact you or make a purchase? Probably not. Neuroscientists have proven that customers make instant decisions based on first impressions and have a habit of moving through content quickly. The first step is to accept this. The second step is to make short sentences, lists, graphics and even whitespace work to your advantage.

Death by design is avoidable.

Be thoughtful. Your customers and prospects are taking the time to investigate you. Why would you want to make it difficult for them to appreciate what you have to offer?

2 Responses to “4 Questions to Prevent an Experience That's Dead by Design”

  1. Great post. It's all about putting the user first, and trying to think from their point of view. Having personas created for different types of users can help in doing this. (the persona I like to use is my mom. Would my mom understand this?).

  2. Hi Chris,
    I agree! You need to really think outside of your own perspective, and having a persona or ideal user to consider helps us do that. Thanks for the comment!

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