First Consult

The first consult was in the lovely “Inn The park” cafe in St James’ Park, where I went over a mobile and an online proposition with my first “client”, Chris. We covered a range of topics and technologies, but what I want to discuss now is based on an initial sketch he brought for the online service. It was appropriately minimal for a modern web service, asking for just a tiny bit of information to then show in return what the possibilities of the proposition were. While a huge step ahead from services that want you to create whole accounts and enter passwords before showing you anything about what the service really does, it was, based on all the user tests I have seen, a little too minimal.

The questions that every front page of a site needs to answer, are

  1. “Is this for me?”
  2. “Do I want this?”

Failure to answer these means people in your target population will almost immediately move on, as they are awash in an Internet sea of alternatives. During testing I have found that users switch off real quickly from the proposition if they can not for themselves answer these questions within minutes, reporting back with “I couldn’t tell who this was for” and “I couldn’t tell what I was supposed to do here” with always the corollary¬† “so I stopped caring / was frustrated / moved on”. That is not the response we want as creators.

While a front page or opening screen full of mystery works for certain propositions, it usually only does when the user has somehow already bought in to the idea that there’s value to be had there. If not, and especially when designing a page for a service, you have to answer these questions in a way that can be absorbed in seconds by a first-time visitor.

To help get to those answers, re-cast the questions as:

  1. Who is this for?
    Once you know, make sure all your font, colors, graphics, tone of voice, amount of text, and lay-out choices speak to the people this is for.
  2. What can they do here?
    Find a way to explain the answer to this within seconds. It can be that your prominent single Call To Action makes clear what you want them to do, it may be a diagram that explains your proposition in simple steps, it may be a list of actions to take. But it must communicate the proposition and the actions to take fast, in any way you can.

I would caution against addressing question 2 using only a video on the front page, though. Fashionable as that currently is, video does not serve users who come in while at work in busy open-plan offices and have a lot of noise to deal with, users with specific accessibility issues like vision or hearing impairments, people using constrained mobile devices, people in low bandwidth situations, people who for any reason only have a little attention available, and many more. Video is a great way to communicate, but make sure it is not the only one.

And it is surely also a good exercise: if you cannot explain your proposition in a few sentences or a simple graphic, should you be investing all these resources in making it? Are you focused enough, are you clear enough on what it is you are building?