In this post I try to keep true to my promise to add some spice to the world of web design and usability: I will try to investigate the cons of designing "sexy" versus "conservative".
So far clients still owe me a consistent definition of what they mean by asking for a "sexy" or "conservative" user interface. I guess I have a hunch and we all probably feel the difference but eventually it boils down to subjective interpretations.
Photo credits: AlphaX/X17, Adrian Varnedoe, A. Than/Pacific Coast News
Just for a moment think of who you would rather want to have a long-lasting relationship with? The Paris Hilton on the left of the photo (sexy) or the Paris Hilton to the right (conservative)? Ok, probably neither, but for the sake of the argument?
In the words of one of our consultants: make the design 'sexy' for our marketing department and 'conservative' for our users. What now? Really?
Let's try to look at the cons of either side in an unbiased way by using a funny dating analogy:
The Bad of too Sexy
Designing too sexy gives everything away for free and leaves you with nothing to hold in reserve
Users know within seconds whether a site is right for them or not, they smell the scent of usefulness and determine that what is offered is worth further time investment. One might call initial attraction a success but it is human nature to want something more if we cannot have it.
So keep certain things a mystery. Don't give everything away upfront or for free. It's OK to tease though.
A 'slutty' design may lower your general value
Your users may feel that they have a higher intrinsic value than you do. Therefore you are not really worth further attention or a long-term relationship.
Design for emotions but keep in mind that trust is only built when your users can take you serious.
Sexy design may show your less than desirable aspects
Surely skillful designers know that it is important to emphasize the attractive aspects of your business and hide the less attractive characteristics. But, trying to pretend being somebody or something that you are not will come across as fake and unreal.
Stay true to your values and represent who you are. Don't pretend to be young or sexy if you aren't.
The Bad of too Conservative
Designing conservatively may indicate a low self-esteem
'Playing it safe' can be caused by many things: traditions, missing innovation, dusty policies, organizational structures, stubborn managers. Whatever it is, it will be felt by the users and could be interpreted as old-fashioned, slow (to deliver), outdated or simply lame.
Being bold is important (having a skilled designer helps too). Engage modern technology and trends like the social web.
Designing conservatively may indicate discomfort with your own business
You might have a hard time defining your business or telling an attractive story of who you are or what you do. This means you are not wholly comfortable or happy with what you represent and therefore choose to show as little of yourself as possible. Holding back is very risky because users (clients) might not understand who you are and don't know why they should get engaged or continue spending their time on your site.
Work hard to make your content/service attractive rather than the appearance. Don't hold back with something that helps engaging users.
Designing conservatively may not catch your users
Design must stand out because it will make YOU stand out. In times where everybody and everything is available on the web it's more important than ever to be unique in your offering, precise in how your business is different (or better) to others and clear in your message. Your front-end should clearly communicate all that! Designing too conservative may ultimately result in fewer visits and engagements.
Be unique and clear about your offerings and communicate it through your user interface.
The purpose of (most) web designs is to engage people and build relationships. That's why appearance is so important and that's why you should not design in stereotypes (aka 'sexy' or 'conservative').
Try to be clear about what you offer and honest in how you present it.
Like with anything in life, make sure to do your homework, learn about your target audience (think google). This will tell you how to dress appropriately and make the date between you and your users a pleasurable experience and hopefully a long-lasting one as well.
What's your opinion? How do you design? Why?
I just came back from an extended trip to Las Vegas, a fascinating city for a multitude of reasons. Not only is it the fastest-growing city in the US, it is also constantly transforming and reinventing itself, a Disneyland for grown-ups, gambling capital of the world, vacation spot for one and Sin City for others. It became evident to me that this city offers more than just pleasure, it teaches us how to attract, entertain and keep us happy despite the fact that we are loosing our money, which means they must be doing something right. Here are my 10 Webpage Design Lessons learned from a trip to Las Vegas... seriously:
1.) Don't Listen to Users
"What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas", the motto of Las Vegas is a true #1 (who ever came up with that slogan is a genius in my eyes)! When asking your fiance/fiancee about his/her bachelor party ... pardon ... when designing an easy-to-use interface, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Jacob Nielsen states that self-reported data is typically three steps removed from the truth:
- People bend the truth to be closer to what they think you want to hear or what's socially acceptable.
- In telling you what they do, people are really telling you what they remember doing.
- In reporting what they do remember, people rationalize their behavior.
Lesson: Perform user tests as early as possible (e.g. design phase).
2.) Optimize your Top Task
Marriage is wonderful and so is the wedding day, at least mine was. Of course I blacked out the six months of preparation and swet that lead to that event. Now, Vegas wasn't Vegas without finding a way to optimize the wedding experience: A 24-hour drive-thru wedding chapel called A Little White Chapel Tunnel of Love. "Ahem, yes, Combo 2 with two wedding rings, a bouquet and the Elvis... can you make it 'Love me tender' please?" - "120 Dollars at the first window please."
Lesson: Identify and optimize your top task.
3.) Direct your Users
Once inside a Casino it is incredibly difficult to find your way out - I'm not certain but I would take any bet that exactly this is the purpose of a Casino designer. More than once I found myself in a maze of slot machines surrounded by their ringing noise and flashing lights. Whatever I was looking for (except ATM's) seemed always to be at the other end of the Casino.
Design your page in a way that helps users find their way around but at the same time support your business model, e.g. Amazon has perfected the process of returning articles and submitting online or email support request but made it really difficult to find a phone support number which would seriously compromise their business income.
Lesson: Create a logical Information Architecture; add links to related items; cross-reference articles.
4.) Make it Easy to Learn
Casino games are mostly very easy to learn, don't you agree? It can't get any easier than inserting your bills, hitting the main button on the front panel or operating the lever to the side, wait until the reels have stopped spinning, compare the pattern of symbols on the reels with the possible winning combinations stated to the top of the machine and cash in the jackpot.
The actual difficult part is to get the people to play or use the machines. That's when the Casino offers free lessons and sections with machines that pay well, everything to get you started.
Lesson: Help novice users to learn and avoid frustration by offering easy entry tasks.
5.) Provide relevant and attractive Content
Vegas has realized very early that sex-appeal and show makes a great combination, but it was limited to mostly the male population and that's when the city started to transform itself into a family-friendly, theme-park like vacation destination with Castles, Musicals, Rollercoasters in and around the Casinos, 3D rides and more. Free drinks, cheap buffets, Day-Spa's and a variety of other promotions added to the perfect experience. Attractive entertainment options could still be found at any corner in the form of bars, clubs and shows but lately I recognize a shift back to more go-go style entertainment in newly created bars in between the slot machines and tables. I guess the family-style hasn't really worked out.
Lesson: Create attractive content that is relevant to your target audience; test and adjust if necessary.
6.) Make it Easy to Enter
Casinos do everything to get you into their building. Almost free (two dollar tip is ok) valet parking allows you to drop off your car quickly and one-directional moving walkways (obviously you need to walk back) shovel you inside, that's where the music plays... Get the people where they want to be as quickly and easy as possible, show me the money!
Lesson: Avoid splash screens and flash intros; keep page sizes small.
7.) Avoid Windows and Clocks
There are two things you will never find in a Casino: windows and clocks. Right, nothing should distract your focus on the slot machines to the other wonderful Casinos outside and nobody wants to encourage you to make time-sensitive decisions (leaving the Casino early) by realizing how much time (and money) you have already spent during your visit.
Lesson: Avoid popup windows and time-sensitive triggers or forwarders.
8.) Make Sign-up Easy
Even though 100% of players think they can win only 1% will win. The only safe way to win in Las Vegas is to sign up for a Players Club. Handing over your name and address to the Casino will in many cases give you an immediate bonus of 5 or 10 bucks in free slot play, discount coupons for drinks and shows as well as little Thank you presents (wink-wink, Tropicana gives you a free T-Shirt and a deck of playing cards). Gambling itself is then rewarded through comps like more gifts, free buffets, free hotel rooms, free show tickets and more. I'm 11 cards richer now 😉
Well, the sign-up process was easy enough, the only interaction with the clerk was handing over my drivers license and entering a PIN twice. Guess what, sure enough I always hit the Enter key after entering the PIN which wasn't very well received by the system and the clerk. I don't even know why I ended up apologizing. Why in the world can't the system take care of that? Another day, another Casino, another Keypad, yes, another keypad, it was an actual computer keypad which is reverse to an ATM keypad and thus reverse to ALL the other keypads. Try your ATM PIN on your keyboard right now ... exactly!
Lesson: Anticipate input errors and handle them gracefully; use common and widely accepted interfaces.
9.) Monitor User Behavior
There is no way one could walk into a Casino and cheat undetected. The famous 'Eye in the Sky' is omni-present. 24/7 'Surround'-Surveillance captures every movement, every face and every deal. That doesn't really worry me as long as they keep on bringing the free beer. It is clear that this kind of monitoring helps the Casinos to optimize their winnings not only by preventing cheats but also by detecting patterns in playing behavior and machine pay-out/malfunctions. I don't see a threat in it as long as my face isn't connected with the data collected.
Lesson: Use Server Traffic Log Analysis and Search Log Analysis to optimize your website.
10.) Make it Sexy
Sexy is probably the attribute I hear most often lately, it's not 'slick' or 'beautiful' anymore, it's 'sexy' now. That's fine with me if only I knew what that means. Any ideas? Send them to me...
Anyway, what would be a blog about Vegas without mentioning sexy at least twice, huh?
Cheers and good luck!