A Heuristic Approach to Web Design

“Heuristic”… serving to indicate or point out, stimulating interest.

So in web design a heuristic approach is to embrace the way people experience and use a website so as to encourage them to find out more, or indeed to spend money.

There’s la lot of information available from UX research. An abbreviation for “user experience” research of which there are many, many kinds. Indeed the UK Government published guidance on using UX research so it’s pretty fundamental and well recognized. Although having said that, you could argue that it’s what you do all the time in web design. You perhaps spend painful hours trying to establish the best way to engage a user and how best to get them to “click” to go to the page you want them to.

Heuristic evaluation on the other hand is far more structured in its approach in establishing your approach and is not dissimilar to equations, you know, if A+B=C where A=10 and C=15, what value is B? There is a very interesting and useful document on the whole process here http://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/user-research.html

Cutting to the quick though, there has been a lot of work going back several years into how people make decisions and as we are busy people, a deal of those decisions can just be reflex or habitual, but designers can use this research to their advantage when looking at website layout.

Indeed one common effect established in research was that of users acceptance of a website or suppliers default settings. In an interesting article http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2011/09/14/do-users-change-their-settings/ that I credit to one Jared Spool. It was established with interesting amusement that a programmer in Microsoft had set all default settings on a program to zero as it was quicker to program and assumed that someone would give him the right settings later. No one did tell him, thus millions of us just went on using that particular version of Word without the most ideal set up. The point? Users tend to just accept the default, thus if you don’t explain well enough how your product will work and what a user needs for it to perform its application correctly, you could get some unhappy customers who’ve bought the wrong model and you’re going to have a lot of costly returns.

Rarity: I recall watching a program on TV that looked at children’s diet (I’m sorry I can’t recall which channel). In the program one group of children at a party were offered one buffet with a vast array of wonderful choices and another group offered a far smaller range of equally lovely food. The children offered a vast range took much more than they needed in a rather less than select way, whereas the children offered much less were far more selective, choosing carefully what they would like and taking a much better balanced meal because (if was concluded) they needed nourishment and the food was less available.

The rarity factor as established in heuristic research can be used in design to help sell. It turns out that if we think a product is rare, uncommonly available or available for only a short time, we are more likely to purchase it. Thus limited time special offers do work, so you would need to include the ability to promote them in your design brief.

Until next time



How to get decent staff.

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Tips On Retaining Clients

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THAT call to customer service…

Full marks for John Lewis and a lesson for all Continue reading “THAT call to customer service…” »


Do we work better in Starbucks?

So I sit here in Starbucks… Continue reading “Do we work better in Starbucks?” »


Developing an e- commerce site…

Or perhaps I should title this “trying to develop…” as my business partner and I have been considering developing an e-commerce website Continue reading “Developing an e- commerce site…” »


Top five presentation don’ts

I must confess that reading an article on the very same subject, reminded me of some public speaking blunders I had made, which drove me to write my own list of “Don’ts. Continue reading “Top five presentation don’ts” »


Do you need chill-out time?

My better half enjoys baking bread. He spends ages in the kitchen kneading dough and reading new recipes. His latest potato and rosemary bread was a real treat, but I digress.

The point is, that he says that not only does he enjoy it and takes pride in the finished product, but he finds it relaxing and a great way to switch off from work for a while and it made me think about the constant focus one needs when designing or building a website. Continue reading “Do you need chill-out time?” »


Cheap Usability and Conversion Testing

Its almost old hat now to say “what’s the point of a website if it doesn’t improve your profits”. To that end it’s important to keep a constant eye on the performance of your site, constantly checking things like conversion rates and return on investment. One of the great challenges with such testing is it can cost money, but you don’t have to spend a fortune. Continue reading “Cheap Usability and Conversion Testing” »


So why aren’t my sales higher?

I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life working with websites – well, often working with people who work with websites might be more truthful and accurate, but I did for sure have responsibility for the performance of those websites (ok, as well as the people who work on those websites…) but I digress.

Putting my marketing hat on for a moment, our core aim and the reason people retained us was in very simple terms, to increase their revenue – to help them sell more of the products they wanted to sell, to those they wanted to sell to.

Of course in this drive to sell more, we needed to get prominence for the website and in the good old days of AltaVista’s reign that wasn’t too difficult, but I’m thinking of the point when a prospect has found the website and wants to buy – it’s at this point that things can go horribly wrong when it should be a straight forward process. For big business there is software that will measure everything and monitor everything it can’t measure, but what if you’re a small business? What if money is too tight to buy such software and even if you did, you have to spend the time to learn how to use it!

I advocate a simpler, cheaper solution, which will show returns quicker than you could learn how to use the alternatives and that’s testing. Yes, testing, sounds simple, but it is a question of who tests and what they test that is the difference, so here are some simple rules to increasing sales from your website:

Find friends and family or advertise for people to sit and make a purchase from your website. You could advertise at a local collage, but importantly you do not want tech students. Ideally recruit people who reflect your target audience. If you sell kitchen design for example, you would ideally look for a Mom who cooks for her children, or likes entertaining.

Importantly you would need 8 or 10 such people so you’re probably only going to employ them once and you could remunerate them with a gift certificate or supper for two. It would not be expensive to retain a few good people with the right advertisement on a notice board in the library or local collage.

Do not tell them the URL of your website, instead explain that you will be asking them to sit in front of a computer and make a purchase or book an appointment. Explain that whilst they do so you will record them on a video and interview them afterwards.

Trust me, their cusses as they can’t find the “buy” button or can’t find how to move from one page to the next, or frustration that they get to the end only to find they need some piece of information they don’t have with them, will be invaluable and correcting these simple things that you’ve missed because you’re too close to it all will improve sales overnight.

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