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You are not alone

You are not alone

It is easy to get exasperated trying to manage a web project, wondering how to regain control of your brand online, how to connect with your customers, and what techniques you need to use so that senior management “get it”.  You are not alone; many businesses are struggling with to get this right, however the good news is that the processes required to fix it are now clearly established and what’s more, they work.

Dustin Curtis is a prominent American design and UX (User Experience) blogger.  He is known for his knowledge of UX theory and his self–righteous tirades against bad websites.  For those Americans who had the misfortune of trying to use the American Airlines website to book a flight, it was no surprise that AA.com was a target in his blog a number of years ago.

What was surprising however, was American Airline’s response.

The thrust of Curtis’ American Airline article was firstly that AA.com sucked badly, secondly that it was easily fixed and thirdly to prove he knew what he was talking about, he posted up potential new designs for the site.  Sure enough the new designs were fresh, brand friendly, focussed on core customer tasks, used the latest UX and browser techniques to make navigation easy, and even for those of us with limited experience of the airline industry, self–evidently represented a massively superior customer solution.

Curtis claimed that the designs took him two or three hours to put together; it was staggering to think that in that short space of time, a solution was available that the hundreds of people working on AA.com for weeks and months weren’t able to pull together.  To quote him “I spent a couple of hours redesigning your front page.  It’s just a small start.  Imagine what you could do with a full, totally competent design team.”

The first words of American Airlines’ (unofficial) response?  You’re right.  You’re so very right.  And yet…

Their reply was so brutally honest that Curtis was prompted to comment that he couldn’t believe American Airlines had a UX Architect and to his complete astonishment the guy was “actually pretty good” at what he does.  He went on to author a follow up article defending the UX guy and telling American Airlines to get their act together.

So how can you arrive at a situation where two UX designers, of broadly similar levels of experience and ability, produce solutions of vastly different quality based on the same design brief?

The answer is process.

The AA.com UX Architect’s response included some of the following comments.  Do any of them sound familiar?

– At least 200 people involved in how the site is built

– Many have their own vested internal interests

– Interactive Marketing are allowed to do their own thing

– AAdvantage team are allowed to do their own thing

– Lot of tentacles and lots of conflicting interests

– We can’t say “no” even if something is a bad idea

– Endless approval cycles, revisions and re–reviews

In the meantime the poor old customer is leaving the site at any cost and trying to fly with any other airline, who has the slightest bit of interest in helping them book a flight.

So take solace that even massive organisations with big budgets are struggling to get the web right.  But learn their lessons for your business, by making sure that your customers and not your internal structures, dictate how your customers experience your site.

All organisations, without exception and regardless of size, must ensure that their web processes and business structures are all based around the customer.  That means working harder to understand core customers, not focussing on what the organisation wishes to say but finding out what the customer wishes to do.  It means using the persona analysis process, which puts customers and not functionality at the centre of the discussion.  And most of all it means organisations commit to putting their egos to the side, in the interests of happier customers and increased revenue.

By Gareth Dunlop

CEO & Founder

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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