Your Facebook fan base is an incredibly powerful marketing asset. You should be aiming to grow the number of fans of your business page in order to continually expand your reach. At the very least, you should be looking to retain the fans you already have. But they already “Liked” your page, so you shouldn’t have to do much to keep them, right? Well, as it turns out, not only is this not true, but it’s actually a very dangerous assumption to make.

Last fall, Facebook came out with the “Unlike” button, which allows fans to unsubscribe from business pages. According to a recent study by DDB and OpinionWay, this button could have serious implications for your Facebook page, considering the study found that 2 out of every 5 Facebook users “Unlike” business pages.

A survey to find out why fans unsubscribe from brand pages revealed the following reasons:

Reasons for Facebook unlikes

In another study conducted by ExactTarget and CoTweet earlier this year, research revealed that the top 4 reasons for fans hitting the “Unlike” button were companies posting too frequently (44%), fans’ desire to get rid of the clutter of marketing posts on their wall (43%), content becoming repetitive or boring over time (38%), and that fans only “Liked” the page to take advantage of a one-time offer (26%).

With these daunting percentages, it may seem like the odds are stacked against you when it comes to retaining your Facebook fans. However, there are many things that you can do to avoid high “Unlike” rates.

4 Ways to Keep Fans From “Unliking” Your Page

1. Keep your posts interesting. The top two reasons fans unsubscribe from a page are because they’ve lost interest in the company or they’ve lost interest in the information the company is publishing. This means that your top strategy for retaining fans should be to publish interesting content. Don’t be repetitive or boring! No one likes to see the same messages in their news feeds over and over again. Facebook is social media, which means people are looking to have fun and read interesting things. Next time you write a status update or post a link to some content, ask yourself, “Does this sound exciting enough to make my fans want to read it?” If not, try to find a way to make it more interesting before you hit that “Post” button.

2. Publish relevant, valuable content. Not only should the content you publish be interesting, it should also be relevant and valuable to your fans. Make your posts informative and helpful. Think education, not marketing pitch. The point of content marketing is to establish yourself as a thought leader and educate your reader base, thereby enticing them to want to learn more about your product and offers. So don’t use Facebook for direct sales. Use it for engagement that generates leads.

3. Find a good balance for publishing frequency. Another top reason fans hit the “Unlike” button is because the company publishes too often, which gives fans of the page the feeling that they’re being flooded with updates. This can very easily become overwhelming and/or annoying, making it far more likely that fans will choose to unsubscribe from the page. On the other hand, though, 14% have “Unliked” a page because the company didn’t publish often enough. Publishing too infrequently leads the fans to either feel like there’s no point in remaining subscribed to the page, since they’re not getting any updates, or to lose interest in the company (and its page) and choose to unsubscribe. Find a posting frequency that maintains a good balance between these two extremes so you can keep your fans satisfied but still hungry for more. Which brings us to the final point…

4. Keep them coming back for more. The ExactTarget and CoTweet study we mentioned earlier found that 26% of Facebook users only “Liked” a business page to take advantage of a one-time offer. Running a Facebook contest or promotional offer can be a great strategy for attracting more fans to your page, but don’t let it stop there. Once they have “Liked” your page, keep them engaged. Give them more reasons to be excited they are fans of your page, whether it’s new offers, unique content, exciting company and industry updates, or fun games, quizzes, and contests. In other words, make your fans glad they found your page through that one-time offer, not because of that one-time offer alone.

There’s no shortage of ways to take advantage of a large fan base on Facebook to improve your marketing and extend your reach. So keep drawing in the fans, and once they’ve “Liked” you, use these tips to show them you’re too awesome to even consider “Unliking.”

There are two parts to every project…the Process and the Point.

The Process, which gets most of the attention, is the series of steps we go through to do the work. We obsess over the process…should we do wireframes, mockups, prototypes, or code right in HTML? What deliverables do we need to get buy-in? When do we do testing? What kind of testing do we do? Should we do user testing early? Late? When is the best time to get feedback?

We need the process to know what to do next. We need a framework to work with because it helps us get more efficient at what we do. When you’re user testing, for example, you’ll go much farther and get there faster if you have a repeatable process in place. You’ll want a quick way to get users for testing, a quick way to figure out what to test, what tasks to test, and what to do with the results.

While we should constantly tweak our own process, we also discuss it endlessly with others. Are you sure you’re doing user experience design correctly? Are you designing content first? Are you designing in the browser? Are you using lorem ipsum, for the love of Gods? Are you doing A/B testing? Using personas? I’m sure yours aren’t as robust as mine, natch.

And then there is the Point. The problem you’re trying to solve. The thing that isn’t part of a process but is the most important thing you need to focus on as a designer. The thing that, if you happen to solve it, makes the process almost irrelevant. Solve the problem and you’re successful no matter what process you’ve been using.

The point is often what’s different in your project…it’s the thing that you probably don’t have a process for yet (if you did it wouldn’t be a problem!). And you probably can’t talk about the point anyway because you don’t want other people to solve it before you (e.g. your competitors). So we instead talk about the process…

But we should remember not to confuse the two. The process is valuable…it’s a framework for deciding what to do next…and we need that…but it’s merely a means to an end. And whatever you do, don’t let process details distract you from solving your problem in any way possible.

The Process is important…but it’s not the Point.

Despite the somewhat provocative title, you shouldn’t really stop designing aesthetics.

Gradients and colors and contrast are all good, but there’s a more important side to web design that many people overlook most of the time: Designing emotions.

Discussing emotion in design is a bit of a hot topic at the moment, it seems to be popping up in more and more blog posts and speaker sessions. In fact I saw at least three different web designers say that it was the subject of the talk which they had recently submitted for next year’s SXSWi.

So what’s all the fuss about? Today we’ll take a look at what that means, how you can do it and why you should. This is taking design to the next level, beyond the norm.

Emotion Design

1

Emotions are important in design because emotions are important in absolutely everything.

Everyone is trying to make their brand, their website, their name the most memorable thing possible but how are they going to accomplish that? Think of the most memorable times in your life, right now, go ahead.

I’ll wager a good amount of money that the three to four things that you just thought of all involved a lot of emotion. The death of a loved one, the birth of a child, your wedding, the day you bought your first car. We remember the things which instill powerful emotions within us.

In his book, The Alchemies of The Mind, Jon Elster emphatically states that “Emotions matter because if we did not have them nothing else would matter. Creatures without emotion would have no reason for living, nor, for that matter, for committing suicide. Emotions are the stuff of life…. Emotions are the most important bond or glue that links us to others…. Objectively, emotions matter because many forms of human behaviour would be unintelligible if we did not see them through the prism of emotion.”

Using Emotion in Web Design

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As a web designer, it’s very easy to get caught up in just the design of the graphics. Of course the next step beyond that which everyone gets stuck on is usability.

So many people talk about usability like it’s the be-all and end-all of web design. As one speaker at the Future of Web Design in London succinctly put it this year: “Designing a website to be usable is like baking a cake to be edible. It’s simply not enough. A usable website should be the minimum requirement, it should go without saying that a website should be absolutely usable. It’s time to look beyond that.”

At the most basic level of considering your users’ emotions, you can consider letting them choose how they want your site to work. What content do they want to see on the home page? What order do they want to see it in? What’s their favorite color? Allowing users to customize your site to their preferences (without having to sign up for anything) creates and emotional attachment to the site with which the user is interacting. They’ve just invested time, however little of it, to make this site perfect for them. They’re going to remember that. Check out the BBC website if you want to see this in action.

What about making users happy without them having to do any customizations though? What about creating something that is so naturally pleasurable to use that people can’t put it down? Well, allow me to introduce you to my good friend: The iPhone.

The iPhone isn’t actually the story here, it’s the touch based device, regardless of who it’s manufactured by. As human beings we live in a real world, touching real things, moving them with our hands. In fact, if you think about it, computers are incredibly unnatural to use: We move one thing on our desk that moves another thing on a screen, and we spend hours pushing complex button combinations with our fingers whilst looking in a completely different (vertical) direction.

People are enthralled with touch based devices because they make computers work in a way that we’re naturally programmed to understand. We see something, we touch it, and it responds in some way. I recently watched a three year old girl navigating her way around an iPhone with absolutely no problems at all. The best part? No one had ever taught her to use it.

Touch based devices create emotions within us: joy, intrigue, and surprise. We understand them perfectly and yet they still thrill us because they’re so clever.

 

Creating Emotions

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So how can we create emotions for users of our websites outside of the UI? Well, to an extent you need to put your marketing cap on here. You need to think about people, not design.

You need to think about perception, not composition. If you can ask yourself a few vital questions about how your users are feeling, then you can go a long way to pleasing them.

Consider FreeAgent for a moment, a fantastic piece of accounting software in the UK, they know that typically people who visit their website are angry, frustrated, and fed up with trying to do their accounts (and failing). Their website is targeted almost solely at cheering you up and telling you not to worry, there’s an easier way to do things. They win.

 

Desire

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But what about creating emotions at more of a root-level? Apple (yes Apple, no article about design would be complete without some mention of them, so we might as well get it over with) create astonishing levels of desire and jealousy amongst their customers.

Despite producing over-priced, under-performing, over-rated products they still retain unprecedented success, constantly. Apple are the biggest fashion label of the tech world. That’s not an insult by the way, sex sells, and everyone else needs to catch up. Apple makes desirable products.

“Thin, beautiful, portable, durable, accessible, powerful, unlimited, magical, revolution.

Sound familiar? All of those words and sentiments were used in Apple’s 30 second advertisement for the iPad, and not a single one of them has anything to do with what the product does.

 

Sympathy

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Another common case study of companies creating emotions in customers, and this is going to be a controversial one, is with charities.

Charities instill sadness and sympathy from deep within you, in order to make sales. Think of every advertisement you’ve ever seen for a charity… most of them go like this: “Sally is a [starving child / stray dog / person with a terminal illness], she’s all alone. Her parents died just after she was born and she’s been living on the streets like this ever since.”

The cause may be just, but don’t mistake the marketing tactics as legitimate sentiments appealing to your moral integrity. The people who create those advertisements know exactly what they’re doing. They’re making you sad, they’re making you sympathetic, and they’re making you want to reach out and help – with your wallet.

 

Anger

6

Possibly the most interesting way to look at deliberately instilling emotions in users is from the perspective of anger.

Now, this has been suggested before, but to my knowledge never confirmed. What do we consider to be great customer service? Usually it’s when a company gets something really wrong, they own up to it, give you a full refund and treat you really well.

It’s unexpected and we absolutely love it. It may be cynical, but is it really unreasonable to think that companies may now be screwing up your order on purpose? If I was running an ecommerce store I would deliberately screw up about 5% of all my orders – then give the customer a full refund and send them the product anyway.

You can’t buy publicity like the way they’re going to talk about that to all their friends.

In content strategy, there is no playbook of generic strategies you can pick from to assemble a plan for your client or project. Instead, our discipline rests on a series of core principles about what makes content effective—what makes it work, what makes it good. Content may need to have other qualities to work within a particular project, but this list is limited to qualities shared across all sorts of content.

If this looks like theory, don’t be fooled. It’s really entirely practical: if we consciously refer to principles like these as we go about our work as info-nerds of various kinds, we’ll have an easier time making good, useful content—and explaining our priorities when we’re called to do so.

Good content is appropriate

Publish content that is right for the user and for the business

There’s really only one central principle of good content: it should be appropriate for your business, for your users, and for its context. Appropriate in its method of delivery, in its style and structure, and above all in its substance. Content strategy is the practice of determining what each of those things means for your project—and how to get there from where you are now.

Right for the user (and context)

Let us meditate for a moment on James Bond. Clever and tough as he is, he’d be mincemeat a hundred times over if not for the hyper-competent support team that stands behind him. When he needs to chase a villain, the team summons an Aston Martin DB5. When he’s poisoned by a beautiful woman with dubious connections, the team offers the antidote in a spring-loaded, space-age infusion device. When he emerges from a swamp overrun with trained alligators, it offers a shower, a shave, and a perfectly tailored suit. It does not talk down to him or waste his time. It anticipates his needs, but does not offer him everything he might ever need, all the time.

Content is appropriate for users when it helps them accomplish their goals.

Content is perfectly appropriate for users when it makes them feel like geniuses on critically important missions, offering them precisely what they need, exactly when they need it, and in just the right form. All of this requires that you get pretty deeply into your users’ heads, if not their tailoring specifications.

Part of this mind-reading act involves context, which encompasses quite a lot more than just access methods, or even a fine-grained understanding of user goals. Content strategist Daniel Eizans has suggested that a meaningful analysis of a user’s context requires not only an understanding of user goals, but also of their behaviors: What are they doing? How are they feeling? What are they capable of?

Venn diagram of user's contextsFig. 1. The user’s context includes actions, constraints, emotions, cognitive conditions, and more. And that in turn affects the ways in which the user interacts with content. (“Personal-Behavioral Context: The New User Persona.” © Daniel Eizans, 2010. Modified from a diagram by Andrew Hinton.)

It’s a sensible notion. When I call the emergency room on a weekend, my context is likely to be quite different than when I call my allergy specialist during business hours. If I look at a subway map at 3:00 a.m., chances are that I need to know which trains are running now, not during rush hour tomorrow. When I look up your company on my phone, I’m more likely to need basic contact info than your annual report from 2006. But assumptions about reader context—however well researched—will never be perfect. Always give readers the option of seeing more information if they wish to do so.

Right for the business

Content is appropriate for your business when it helps you accomplish your business goals in a sustainable way.

Business goals include things like “increase sales,” “improve technical support service,” and “reduce printing costs for educational materials,” and the trick is to accomplish those goals using sustainable processes. Sustainable content is content you can create—and maintain—without going broke, without lowering quality in ways that make the content suck, and without working employees into nervous breakdowns. The need for this kind of sustainability may sound boneheadedly obvious, but it’s very easy to create an ambitious plan for publishing oodles of content without considering the long-term effort required to manage it.

Fundamentally, though, “right for the business” and “right for the user” are the same thing. Without readers, viewers, and listeners, all content is meaningless, and content created without consideration for users’ needs harms publishers because ignored users leave.

This principle boils down to enlightened self interest: that which hurts your users hurts you.

Good content is useful

Define a clear, specific purpose for each piece of content; evaluate content against this purpose

Few people set out to produce content that bores, confuses, and irritates users, yet the web is filled with fluffy, purposeless, and annoying content. This sort of content isn’t neutral, either: it actively wastes time and money and works against user and business goals.

To know whether or not you have the right content for a page (or module or section), you have to know what that content is supposed to accomplish. Greater specificity produces better results. Consider the following possible purposes for a chunk of product-related content:

  • “Sell products”—This is so vague as to be meaningless and is likely to produce buzzword-infested fluff.
  • “Sell this product”—Selling a product is a process made up of many smaller tasks, like discussing benefits, mapping them to features, demonstrating results and value, and asking people to buy. If your goal is this vague, you have no idea which of these tasks (if any) the content will perform.
  • “List and demonstrate the benefits of this product”—This is something a chunk of content can actually do. But if you don’t know who is supposed to benefit from the product, it’s difficult to be specific.
  • “Show how this product helps nurse practitioners”—If you can discover what nurse practitioners need, you can create content that serves this purpose. (And if you can’t find out what they need before trying to sell them a product, you have a lot more to worry about than your content.)

Now do the same for every chunk of content in your project, and you’ll have a useful checklist of what you’re really trying to achieve. If that sounds daunting, think how much harder it would be to try to evaluate, create, or revise the content without a purpose in mind.

Good content is user-centered

Adopt the cognitive frameworks of your users

On a web project, user-centered design means that the final product must meet real user needs and fulfill real human desires. In practical terms, it also means that the days of designing a site map to mirror an org chart are over.

In The Psychology of Everyday Things, cognitive scientist Donald Norman wrote about the central importance of understanding the user’s mental model before designing products. In the user-centered design system he advocates, design should “make sure that (1) the user can figure out what to do, and (2) the user can tell what is going on.”

When it comes to content, “user-centered” means that instead of insistently using the client’s internal mental models and vocabulary, content must adopt the cognitive frameworks of the user. That includes everything from your users’ model of the world to the ways in which they use specific terms and phrases. And that part has taken a little longer to sink in.

Allow me to offer a brief illustrative puppet show.

While hanging your collection of framed portraits of teacup poodles, you realize you need a tack hammer. So you pop down to the hardware store and ask the clerk where to find one. “Tools and Construction-Related Accessories,” she says. “Aisle five.”

“Welcome to the Tools and Construction-Related Accessories department, where you will find many tools for construction and construction-adjacent activities. How can we help you?”

“Hi. Where can I find a tack hammer?”

“Did you mean an Upholstery Hammer (Home Use)?”

“…yes?”

“Hammers with heads smaller than three inches are the responsibility of the Tools for Home Use Division at the far end of aisle nine.”

“Welcome to The Home Tool Center! We were established by the merger of the Tools for Home Use Division and the Department of Small Sharp Objects. Would you like to schedule a demonstration?”

“I just need an upholstery hammer. For…the home?”

“Do you require Premium Home Use Upholstery Hammer or Standard Deluxe Home Use Upholstery Hammer?”

“Look, there’s a tack hammer right behind your head. That’s all I need.”

“DIRECTORY ACCESS DENIED. Please return to the front of the store and try your search again!”

Publishing content that is self-absorbed in substance or style alienates readers. Most successful organizations have realized this, yet many sites are still built around internal org charts, clogged with mission statements designed for internal use, and beset by jargon and proprietary names for common ideas.

If you’re the only one offering a desirable product or service, you might not see the effects of narcissistic content right away, but someone will eventually come along and eat your lunch by offering the exact same thing in a user-centered way.

Good content is clear

Seek clarity in all things

When we say that something is clear, we mean that it works; it communicates; the light gets through. Good content speaks to people in a language they understand and is organized in ways that make it easy to use.

Content strategists usually rely on others—writers, editors, and multimedia specialists—to produce and revise the content that users read, listen to, and watch. On some large projects, we may never meet most of the people involved in content production. But if we want to help them produce genuinely clear content, we can’t just make a plan, drop it onto the heads of the writers, and flee the building.

Of course, clarity is also a virtue we should attend to in the production of our own work. Goals, meetings, deliverables, processes—all benefit from a love of clarity.

Good content is consistent

Mandate consistency, within reason

For most people, language is our primary interface with each other and with the external world. Consistency of language and presentation acts as a consistent interface, reducing the users’ cognitive load and making it easier for readers to understand what they read. Inconsistency, on the other hand, adds cognitive effort, hinders understanding, and distracts readers.

That’s what our style guides are for. Many of us who came to content strategy from journalistic or editorial fields have a very strong attachment to a particular style—I have a weakness for the Chicago Manual of Style—but skillful practitioners put internal consistency well ahead of personal preferences.

Some kinds of consistency aren’t always uniformly valuable, either: a site that serves doctors, patients, and insurance providers, for example, will probably use three different voice/tone guidelines for the three audiences, and another for content intended to be read by a general audience. That’s healthy, reader-centric consistency. On the other hand, a company that permitted each of its product teams to create widely different kinds of content is probably breaking the principles of consistency for self-serving, rather than reader-serving, reasons.

Good content is concise

Omit needless content

Some organizations love to publish lots of content. Perhaps because they believe that having an org chart, a mission statement, a vision declaration, and a corporate inspirational video on the About Us page will retroactively validate the hours and days of time spent producing that content. Perhaps because they believe Google will only bless their work if they churn out dozens of blog posts per week. In most cases, I think entropy deserves the blame: the web offers the space to publish everything, and it’s much easier to treat it like a hall closet with infinite stuffing-space than to impose constraints.

So what does it matter if we have too much content? For one thing, more content makes everything more difficult to find. For another, spreading finite resources ever more thinly results in a decline in quality. It also often indicates a deeper problem—publishing everything often means “publishing everything we can,” rather than “publishing everything we’ve learned that our users really need.”

There are many ways to discover which content is in fact needless; traffic analysis, user research, and editorial judgment should all play a role. You may also wish to begin with a hit list of common stowaways:

  • Mission statements, vision statements, and core values. If the people within your organization are genuinely committed to abstract principles, it will show in what they do. The exception is the small number of organizations for whom the mission is the product, as is the case with many charities. Even then, this kind of content should be supplemented with plentiful evidence of follow-through.
  • Press releases. These may work for their very narrow intended audience, but putting them undigested onto a website is a perfect example of the how-we’ve-always-done-it mistake.
  • Long, unreadable legal pages. Some legal awkwardness is acceptable, but if you want to demonstrate that you respect your readers, take the extra time to whittle down rambling legalese and replace needless circumlocutions with (attorney-vetted) plain language.
  • Endless feature lists. Most are not useful to readers. The few that are can usually be organized into subcategories that aid findability and comprehension.
  • Redundant documentation. Are you offering the same audience three different FAQs? Can they be combined or turned into contextual help?
  • Audiovisual dust bunnies. Do your videos or animations begin with a long flying-logo intro? Do they ramble on for 30 minutes to communicate ten minutes of important content? Trim, edit, and provide ways of skipping around.

Once you’ve rooted out unnecessary content at the site-planning level, be prepared to ruthlessly eliminate (and teach others to eliminate) needless content at the section, page, and sentence level.

Good content is supported

Publish no content without a support plan

If newspapers are “dead tree media,” information published online is a live green plant. And as we figured out sometime around 10,000 BC, plants are more useful if we tend them and shape their futures to suit our goals. So, too, must content be tended and supported.

Factual content must be updated when new information appears and culled once it’s no longer useful; user-generated content must be nurtured and weeded; time-sensitive content like breaking news or event information must be planted on schedule and cut back once its blooming period ends. Perhaps most importantly, a content plan once begun must be carried through its intended growth cycle if it’s to bear fruit and make all the effort worthwhile.

This is all easy to talk about, but the reason most content is not properly maintained is that most content plans rely on getting the already overworked to produce, revise, and publish content without neglecting other responsibilities. This is not inevitable, but unless content and publishing tasks are recognized as time-consuming and complex and then included in job descriptions, performance reviews, and resource planning, it will continue.

Hoping that a content management system will replace this kind of human care and attention is about as effective as pointing a barn full of unmanned agricultural machinery at a field, going on vacation, and hoping it all works out. Tractors are more efficient than horse-drawn plows, but they still need humans to decide where and when and how to use them.

Of theses and church doors

One of the great images of the history of the Protestant Church is that of a German priest standing in the cold in front of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on All Saints Eve, nailing his manifesto to its wooden doors.

The reality of the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses is messier, and whether the church doors were really involved at all is the subject of academic dispute, but one thing is clear: Luther published his theses to begin an open, public conversation.

Our industry doesn’t lack for manifestos, some of them even explicitly modeled after Luther’s. This article—and the book from which it’s extracted—is not one of the firebrand, nailed-to-the-door attempts at full-scale revolution.

But it is intended to continue conversations we’ve been having for years, and to spark new ones, about the shared principles and assumptions that underlie our work, and the weird and interesting things we can build on top of them.

It’s not new to say that we now live in an age in which survival in business depends on your ability to communicate effectively through the internet.

What is new is the realization that just having any old website isn’t enough. The quality of your site and the nature of its content are paramount and your ability to communicate with your audience is the key.

A good website is built on two basic truths—that the internet is an interactive medium and that the end user is in fact human. In other words, it is meant to be an experience. As with any adventure, a little strategic thought is needed to ensure that the experience is enjoyable.

Respect me

Remember that the person on the other side of the computer screen is a human being. They want to know that your business understands them.

Take the time to find out who they are and what they like. Then tailor your message and design to suit them. A real-life analogy is the approach you would take to initiate a conversation with a stranger at a party (a person with whom you hope to become better acquainted). You would do well to listen intently to what interests them and then craft your conversation to suit. You wouldn’t bore them with a lengthy extolment of CSS or Ajax on a Saturday night, would you?

Try to think beyond the demographic and envisage the individual. Many web briefs contain a far-reaching description of the audience. During the briefing session, try to narrow the focus. A brief may begin at:

Intranet Audience: 20–50 year old real estate agents

This can be divided into a primary and secondary audience, as follows:

Intranet Primary Audience: 20–35 (sales agents)

Intranet Secondary Audience: 35–50 (middle and senior managers)

From that point, it helps to imagine yourself as the agent, logging onto the intranet with a cup of coffee in hand half an hour before tackling early open houses. Do you see your desire for flash animation disappear in a puff of smoke? Do you see how “get to the point fast and be obvious” becomes a distinct directive? How about the need for personalization, so the agent can see what they require immediately, for example, appointments for the day, contacts, and their sales pipeline?

Closing the gap between yourself and your audience will help you to make the right decisions and tailor the design to their needs.

Tell me a story

Harness one of the oldest and most effective ways of communicating knowledge on your site.

Storytelling is a rich and compelling way to involve the user in a design, evoke an emotional response, or enhance a user’s learning experience. The question to ask is:

Is there a more creative way to present the required information to increase the user’s involvement?

News websites are increasingly rising to the challenge. In the past a breaking story would have been a single page of written text. Now it may be enhanced with multimedia to offer alternate ways to view the story including interactive timelines, streaming web-cam, animation, sound, and video. These elements can give the audience a broader and deeper understanding of the topic and the issues, which surround it.

The most wonderful thing about using the internet to tell a story is that it can be non-linear—the user can click to view fragments of information that interest them, rather than viewing the entire story from beginning to end. By telling a story through user interaction, you enable users to choose their own path according to their preferences or needs.

Engage me

As broadband becomes prevalent, web designers have increasingly begun to combine visual design with interaction and motion. Their role has become less that of a designer and more that of a director of experiences. To illustrate the difference between those roles, let’s look at the way the creative direction of a design might be described:

To promote your strength, which is the local content of the entertainment news, we will include the cityscape of each state within your brand.

The direction of an experience, on the other hand, would require more documentation in the conceptualization stage. An experience director must pull together content, formulate an interactive approach and style, and orchestrate the creative elements in which to propel the story. The web designers of the future may even be required to write a treatment, melding the design process with that of film direction.

By attending to the entire user experience, designers can create a rich, sensory experience, which helps to immerse users and encourage them to become fully involved in the site and its message. When a site is intended to educate, immersion is particularly important, as it can increase learning speed and overall understanding—especially when a site’s main users are children.

Through immersion, the user experiences joy and satisfaction: positive qualities that will be transferred to your brand.

Inspire me

Some people believe that web design starts and stops with branding. Their view is the visual identity of the brand is easily applicable to the web through the transference of common elements such as logo, colours and typography.

Indeed a lot of the traffic that will come to your website will be people who know or chose your brand in the real world. So when they arrive at your virtual world it is an ideal opportunity to reinforce it.

However, your site can do much more than mimic your identity. It can encapsulate the brand personality, whether that is inspirational, trustworthy, or authoritative. These traits were part of the reason why they chose your brand in the first place.

During the filming of Withnail and I, the director told lead actor Richard E. Grant to “stamp the celluloid”, meaning to go full pelt, not half-measure. It’s timely advice for when you want to inspire your audience and make them take action—don’t be polite, grab them by the throat—and bring your brand to life!

Enchant me

A beautiful design will give the user the impression that the site is easy to use, whether it is or not. Also, it is more probable that the design will be used because the human psyche is inexorably drawn towards beauty.

Transactional sites often fail miserably in the aesthetic stakes. The reigning thought is that it is the domain of the usability consultant—that design is secondary and often confined to the “coloring in” of table cells.

Yet highly complicated processes and pages can look deceptively simple with the right styling. Spacing becomes increasingly important as it allows the user’s eyes to rest before taking on the next batch of information. Design can create order and instill a feeling of peace and serenity—positive attributes when you are asking your user to complete a lengthy and profit-creating form. Professional design can also increase user trust levels, the single most important trait to attain for any transactional site.

If you’re not a professional visual designer, you can engender trust and loyalty and foster attraction by consulting a high-level designer for business-critical or transactional sites.

The principles of good human-to-computer interface design are simplicity, support, clarity, encouragement, satisfaction, accessibility, versatility, and personalization. While it’s essential to heed these, it’s also important to empathize with and inspire your audience so they feel you’re treating them less like a faceless user and more like a human being. In doing so, you will extend their affinity with the design and foster positive attitudes towards your brand, company, or product.

4 simple ways how designers should protect themselves

People who don’t understand the true value of graphic designers will try to take advantage of them, especially if they’re newbies.

Others will try to calculate the time and effort involved in designing and then assume you’ll meet their expectations, however unrealistic.

This can wear on you both financially and mentally, so you have to find ways to protect yourself. Here are four ways to keep your work and your clients in check.

Have a look through them and let us know your experiences and whether you would add anything to this list.

1. Contracts and terms of service

Whenever you land a gig, be as clear as possible with the client so that they understand what will happen. I like to have a full consultation with new clients, and once we come to a basic agreement, I go over what they can expect from me and what I expect from them.

You may want to draw up a contract to get everything down on paper and to make sure everything is clear, just in case you run into trouble later on. There are a few essential things you’ll want to put in the contract or terms of services…

Deliverables

What exactly will you be giving them when all is said and done? This is usually specified by the client; they may want your PSD files or perhaps just a format that can be printed. Let them know what they will be getting so that there is no confusion.

Contributions

In addition to the deliverables, let the client know a bit about your process and what you expect from them. One of my biggest pet peeves is clients who don’t answer emails in what I think is a timely fashion; if you’re the same, why not put that in your contract? Spell out (and agree on) what you expect from the client and what they expect from you. This alone will clear up much confusion and hold each party accountable for the duration of the project.

Revisions

This is the cause of most headaches for designers. Spell out as clearly as possible what you consider to be a revision. This is key, because one person’s idea of a revision may not be the same as another’s. Is a revision moving the logo to the left or completely redesigning the page? Once you’ve come to an understanding, specify how many revisions you think are reasonable for the project (and the budget).

I personally don’t mind minor revisions, but complete redesigns are the death of me. To avoid this, you may want to provide several different designs at once and then narrow down as time goes on. But if you do this, make sure it’s contracted. Be up front when talking about revisions as well, and when you submit updates, remind the client what you’ve agreed on.

Payment

This is probably the most important part of the contract. How do you want to get paid? Do you want a deposit? If so, how much? Answer all of these questions so that the client knows what to do.

I strongly suggest some type of deposit before you start a project, just so that you know the client is serious about getting work done. Some designers require payment in full up front, while others have certain conditions depending on the total amount of the project. Figure out what works for you, discuss it with the client, and go from there.

Cancellations

We never like to think that someone would cancel on us. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. But the truth is, it happens, and you need to protect yourself in some way. Perhaps give the client a time period in which they can cancel, or request a non-refundable deposit. Find something that works for you, and, of course, state it clearly in the contract. You never want to do a ton of work only to have the person back out on you with no consequences. Make no exceptions.

2. Say no

Some designers are so eager to stay busy with work or make money that they have a hard time saying no to projects. Too many projects coming your way is not the worst problem to have, but eventually you’ll get frustrated or burnt out. You’ll want to avoid certain types of projects…

Baby budgets

Be absolutely clear with yourself about how low you are willing to go on price for the work involved. You may have to pass on a ton of projects, but people who are willing to pay will eventually come forward. You don’t want to find yourself zipping through a bunch of cheap projects.

Outside your skill set

Be honest about your skill set. When I started out, I took on projects that were outside my skill set, just so that I would stay busy. I had no working knowledge of Flash, but I would guarantee someone a Flash intro or banner. That was a huge mistake, because I had to learn the skill and execute the task to the client’s liking by the deadline. That’s a recipe for stress.

Only take on work that falls within your skill set. Be honest with yourself and your client. Perhaps you could convince them of an alternative solution that does fall within your skill set.

Full plate

If you’re already up to your eyeballs in work, don’t take on more. You’ll just be getting more deadlines and more stress for no reason. Pace yourself; avoid burning out or getting into a creative slump. Give yourself some breathing room between projects so that you have time to rejuvenate and come up with fresh ideas.

Speeding through projects and working at your limit all the time is not good for your mental or physical health. Don’t be so quick to accept whatever crosses your path. Just let good work come to you, and do it on your own terms.

3. Charge more

Protecting yourself has a lot to do with the types of clients you attract. If you attract ones who you just don’t get along with or who are rude and hard to work with, consider increasing your prices.

The amount you charge correlates to the value (and quality) of your product. If you charge pennies for big projects, you might attract a bunch of clients, but they won’t necessarily understand the value you are delivering. When people don’t understand your value or feel you offer little, then they will treat you accordingly.

If you purchase a $100 digital camera, you can enjoy the product, and if you drop it or scuff it up a bit, you won’t be terribly upset because it was only $100. If you purchase a $1500 camera, you’ll be much more careful with it. That’s the kind of mentality most people have with service providers.

Unfortunately for us, working with people who don’t value our services can be very stressful. Consider increasing your prices in order to attract a different type of client, one who values your work.

4. Set barriers with family and friends

This is a touchy subject for most. We all cherish our friends and family, but we are often the only graphic designer they know. And when they come to us for work, they expect a deep discount or even no charge. Figure out beforehand where you’ll draw the line.

If you offer a discount, make sure that at least your time spent on the project will be covered. Beyond that, treat them just like a regular client. Of course, you might want to be a bit more flexible in the number of revisions you allow and things of that nature, which is fair.

Dealing with requests for free work is a bit more difficult. If I accept a project for free, I treat it as my own personal project. I retain total creative control, and once it is delivered, few or no revisions are allowed — and certainly no redesigns. Again, figure out what’s best for you and your business, and sit down and go over it with your relative or friend.

The Web is a galaxy of information that is rapidly expanding. Blogs and online magazines are helping shape the future of this Information Age that we live in. Those of us who read, write and design blogs and online magazines possess extraordinary power and potential. How will we choose to use it?

If you use your website to publish news, events, opinions or interviews, you should familiarize yourself with the basics of journalism. These tools can help us develop and share information that is exciting, intelligent, and responsible. They can provide guidance and support as you pursue a career or hobby writing online.

Newsstand2 in We Can Do Better: The Overlooked Importance of Professional Journalism

This article is accompanied by examples of photojournalism, which is the practice of communicating news through photographs. The above photo of a 1940′s newsstand in New York City was taken by photojournalist Ruth Orkin

We, designers, go on all day about the usability of our WordPress layouts and the readability of our typography, but all of those things have been considered in vain if our writing is poorly spelled, riddled with inaccuracies, or based on second-hand assumptions that will leave our audience misled, confused, or worse. Even if you’re just casually writing about why you personally love/hate the iPad (for example), you can do so in a truthful way (truthful to your own opinions and truthful to the information you are discussing).

Whether or not you strive to produce writing that you consider journalism is not all that important. What is important is that no matter what writing genre you specialize in, you have a responsibility to your readers to publish high quality writing that is truthful, accurate, and readable. Oh, and this applies to your professional Twitter stream and Facebook updates, too. All of these elements have a reflection on you and your brand.

Trained professional journalists spend years studying the complex techniques and thorny philosophical values that define the trade of journalism, so don’t expect to receive a Master’s degree from Columbia by the end of this article. What this piece can serve as is a crash course designed to introduce concepts that will improve your writing, pique your interest, and instill a sense of respect for the fundamentals of a noble profession.

What is Journalism?

The most familiar function of journalism is ‘hard news’ reporting you’ll see on the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post. But journalistic writing also extends to editorial writing, cultural reviews, interviews, and more.

According to The Elements of Journalism (written by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel), “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” Journalism is the pursuit of truth, accuracy and fairness in the telling of a story. Journalists serve and inform their audience by investigating and reporting on news, trends, issues, and events. Much like designers, journalists pride themselves on a duty provide their audience with useful, high-quality content.

What’s the difference between Journalism and Blogging?

CNN.com delivers journalism. Your cousin’s homemade Twilight fan fiction site, on the other hand, is a blog. However, somewhere in between lies a hotly debated grey area.

So can blogs be journalism? According to NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, “They can be, sometimes.”  How can you tell the difference? Depends on who you ask. Rosen himself is both journalist and blogger (he runs PressThink, a weblog about journalism and the press). In his essay ‘Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over’, Rosen decides that the sometimes indiscernible difference between these two forms of writing is less important than the implications of massive shifts of power in the media. Rosen acknowledges what Tom Curley (Chief Executive of the Associated Press) called “a huge shift in the ‘balance of power’ in our world, from the content providers to the content consumers.” What does that mean for those of us in a position to take advantage of our newfound power?

It means we should move forward with a spirit of responsibility and immense excitement. We live in a revolutionary time when just about anyone with access to a computer can make his or her writing available to an enormous international audience with the click of a button. As Web designers and online writers who are experienced with the Web, the potential of our medium is tremendous.

“Look at her: so beautiful, so friendly, so smart. And what a personality. She must be mine. Hooking up with her would make me the envy of all my friends. Sure, she’s young and she’s gorgeous. Besides, I can easily try something new if I get bored or something better comes along.”

No, that’s not an excerpt from Lolita. As cruel and inappropriate as they might seem, these thoughts are fairly common in our society. In fact, in the past year, millions of people have entered into exactly that type of relationship. Don’t bother calling the Special Victims Unit; what we’re discussing here is not what you think it is. It’s the Apple iPad.

Apple seems to have entranced people. It’s hard to walk down the street without passing someone who is plugged in to those iconic white headphones or to enter a coffee shop without hearing someone gabbing on their iPhone. Apple’s stores are crowded, and its products sell in absurd quantities.

Why is this? Apple might be a visionary company with a strong grasp of what’s hip. Yet I believe Apple’s appeal lies in something more than trends, something deeply ingrained in our psyche: relationships.

Relationship-engineering-title-image in Relationship Engineering: Designing Attraction

Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love, Antonio Canova. (Image: Wikipedia)

We don’t simply own products; we have relationships with them. Intimate ones at that. We are in a state of courtship with every brand in existence. Each of them wants to be a part of our lives, and each wants love in return. Thinking about our relationships with particular products and brands in the same way that we think about interpersonal relationships yields interesting insights. When we decide to bring a person or product into our lives, we must first evaluate our options. The criteria we use to decide whether we love, hate or are indifferent to another person are the same we use to judge a product or brand.

There are many types of relationships, but we can put brand-consumer relationships into three categories: acquaintance, friend and lover.

When someone purchases a bag of apples at the grocery store, they’re demonstrating an acquaintanceship with apples. They’ve interacted with apples before, but there’s no deep attachment, and there has been very little bonding with the product.

The next step up — friendship — emerges because of branding. For example, I always purchase a certain brand of gum. I’ve come to know the brand and its offerings, and I enjoy having its product in my life. We’re friends, but that’s where the relationship ends. There’s no romance involved, and no longing or desire is felt.

Only certain brands manage to take the step from friend to lover. Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world. It also provides a useful model of consumer courtship. Just about any iPhone user will proudly tell you, like a love-struck teenager on prom night, that they “love” their phone and would be “like, totally lost without it.” There are dozens of cell-phone manufacturers, but only one iPhone. Successful visionary companies, such as Apple, have mastered the art of relationship engineering.

Designing Attraction

Ring-of-fire in Relationship Engineering: Designing Attraction

Love is often likened to fire. In the early stages of a relationship, things start heating up. As the love grows stronger, the flames grow higher. When a relationship falls apart, we say that the fire has gone out. Whether someone lights or douses your fire has to do with the two core aspects of their being: how they appear on the outside and who they are on the inside. That is, a person’s appeal is based on two things: looks and personality. Let’s take a closer look at each of these aspects of appeal and examine how they influence people into relationships with brands and products.

Looks

Baby-got-back in Relationship Engineering: Designing Attraction

Attractiveness spurs lust. It’s a simple cause-and-effect paradigm ingrained in our very nature. We all long for the cute guy or girl in class, and that same desire guides us when choosing a product.

Since the days of Plato, philosophers and artists have tried to pinpoint exactly what makes something aesthetically pleasing. No universal formula for beauty has ever been agreed upon. Beauty is subjective. The designer’s job is to appeal to the collective subjective, or the average of personal preferences. Doing so ensures a product appeals to the largest audience possible.

Making your product visually appealing is not superficial. In fact, design is often a product’s primary competitive advantage. iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player on the market; it didn’t have the largest capacity; it didn’t have the most features; and it certainly wasn’t the cheapest. It was, however, sexy. It was simple and self-explanatory. Its scrolling wheel was as intuitive as it was revolutionary. Perhaps most importantly, it introduced a unique and (now) iconic form factor. The market had been flooded with matte gray devices with black headphones, but this entrant had a clean white front and mirrored back. Even the earbuds were white. Many people tuck their devices into their pockets, which makes the headphones the most visible hardware. Apple exploited this and turned the earbuds into a mnemonic device. Spotting someone with white earbuds, even from afar, immediately told you which brand was on the other end.

The iPod now accounts for well over 70% of the audio-device market. Why? I think it’s because the iPod is just more distinct than its competitors. In a market full of brunettes, the iPod is Marilyn Monroe.

Facebook vs. MySpace

Facebook has more than 500 million users, and that number is growing steadily. MySpace has plateaued at around 125 million. How has MySpace, once the leading social network, fallen behind by such a large margin? There are a number of reasons, but design seems to be one of the most obvious (Newsweek and Mashable seem to think so, too).

Much to its detriment, MySpace allows users to apply their own style sheets. I can imagine the brainstorm that led to this decision: “Wouldn’t it be great to let users customize the look of their page? People love to make things their own and flaunt their personalities. This will surely encourage new users and give us the edge on Facebook. Hurrah!”

MySpace somehow failed to realize that most people’s design education consists entirely of WordArt tutorials taught by Microsoft’s Clippy. Perusing MySpace profiles is torturous. Hideous background images overshadow content, while animated GIFs and illegible text make for an irritating user experience.

Facebook realized that people want to connect with friends more than they want to customize style sheets, so it offered users a clean and uniform interface. Everything was nicely designed; nothing was gaudy or tasteless. The whole experience was much more visually appealing. While MySpace was pushing personalization, Facebook was refining a community to change the way we interact.

To Sum Up

  • People are programmed to judge by appearance, so every interaction they have needs to be groomed to visual perfection.
  • To maximize appeal, designers must be observant of the collective subjective.
  • Design is not superficial. It can be your greatest competitive advantage.
  • Visual distinction becomes a mnemonic device for your product. Incorporate it to increase awareness and encourage recall.
  • Allowing others to control your appearance, while nice in theory, can lead to chaos and brand deterioration.

Personality

Arrested-development2 in Relationship Engineering: Designing Attraction

As we get to know someone, the novelty of their appearance fades, and something more substantial is required to maintain our interest. We start looking beneath the surface and noticing abstract qualities: intelligence, sense of humor, likes and dislikes, ambitions. These qualities have the power to shape how we see the true person. A person’s personality — the DNA of their character — builds lasting appeal.

Character compatibility forms friendship and love. Looks alone might seal the deal for a one-night stand, but acceptance of personality is required for healthy long-term relationships. We’re often told to “be ourselves.” This is good advice. Like a pheromone-ridden glue trap, flaunting your personality attracts and ultimately bonds you with like-minded individuals.

Personality has this effect in the commercial realm as well. Aligning yourself with your target audience is critical to success. I’m sure this is excruciatingly obvious, and many organizations are already tuned into their demographics, but many others either are too shy to display personality or fail to do so properly.

Humor is one of personality’s strongest pheromones. If done right, humor evokes laughter. And yes, laughter is enjoyable in itself, but have you every wondered why we laugh? Anthropologists are discovering that laughing is not necessarily something we do merely for enjoyment, but is actually a subconscious technique that builds rapport. By laughing, we indicate to others that we agree with or accept them. Dr. Robert Provine, who has done extensive research on how, when and why we laugh, likens laughter to a glue:

…“Ha ha ha’s” are bits of social glue that bond relationships… When we laugh, we’re often communicating playful intent. So laughter has a bonding function within individuals in a group.

Applying a coat of humor to your product or advertising campaign is a great way to spark the subconscious urge to bond. Just make sure people are laughing with you, not at you.

Going back to Apple, its “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC” ads focus explicitly on personality by actually personifying brands (Apple and Microsoft). The casual dress and easygoing nature of the Mac character exudes fun, simplicity and intelligence, especially when juxtaposed with the conservative, uptight PC character.

Also, the subtle dose of geek humor gets you laughing (and thus successfully bonding) with the Mac, and laughing at (disapproving of) the PC. These ads strengthened Apple’s reputation as a hip, intelligent, friendly company, while pegging Microsoft as uptight and out of touch with users’ needs.

Microsoft attempted to salvage its reputation by recruiting — or shall we say, throwing money at — Jerry Seinfeld, who starred in a series of ads alongside Bill Gates. For personality, Jerry Seinfeld is a great candidate. He’s famous, his show had some 75 million viewers, he understands everyday people with everyday problems, and he’s funny.

In a swing-and-miss attempt at comedy, the ads follow Bill and Jerry as they “connect” with “real” people. Is it me, or do these ads actually enhance the perception we have of Microsoft as unhip and out of touch?

Digg vs. Reddit

Have you seen the top story on Digg today? Neither have I. A year ago, I would have been able to recap all of the top stories for you. The website was powered by people like me, so I came to rely on Digg to keep me up to date on topics I was interested in. My personality meshed with those of other Digg users, and visiting the website became part of my daily routine. Yet I rarely visit this social-bookmarking website anymore. Instead, I look to Reddit for my democratically selected links.

What has changed? Ever since Digg released version 4, back in August, content quality has dropped significantly. Front-page stories lack relevance, top stories are now decided by far fewer Diggs, and the sponsored links disguised as genuine articles sour the whole experience.

Digg’s personality changed. It destroyed the very foundation upon which it was built. Suddenly, publishers could auto-submit content and bypass the users who once acted as a filter to determine whether articles were relevant to the Digg audience. No longer was Digg a democratic platform. The power shifted from user to publisher. In other words, Digg sold out.

This personality switch rightfully pissed off the core user base. Alienated users began flocking to… well, an alien. Some stayed to plead with Digg that it revert to its earlier version. Digg refused. In revolt, users began to submit direct links to Reddit. Within months, Digg crumbled and users flocked in hordes to Reddit.

Reddit offers a platform similar to Digg and, despite being owned by Condé Nast, lacks the tinge of corporate influence. Before Digg’s redesign, Reddit was serving a respectable 429 million page views per month. Condé Nast has just announced that Reddit now serves more than 1 billion. That’s more than double its pre-Digg-blowout numbers and a 300% increase over its January 2010 figures. Digg has finally pulled some of the features that led to the mutiny, but it might be too little, too late.

A valuable lesson can be learned from Digg: stay true to yourself. With followers come expectations. Personality attracted them, and every action that is out of character will push them away. Introduce advancements incrementally, and users might put up with it; change drastically, and they’ll leave.

To Sum Up

  • Personality builds rapport. Don’t be afraid to flaunt it.
  • Laughter is a powerful social glue, but use it with caution. You want people laughing with you, not at you.
  • Define your personality and stay true to it. Out-of-character actions will be seen as inauthentic and will alienate your audience.

Conclusion

Studying the art of seduction and the rules of relationships can help you craft engaging user experiences and forge strong connections with users. Getting your audience to fall in love with your product is no easy task. It requires a holistic approach involving members of every team. As interactive professionals, our work bridges brand and consumer. We are the cupids of commerce. Sharpen your arrows; it’s time to spread some love.

This has been the first in a two-part series on relationship engineering. In part two, we’ll explore the art of maintaining a relationship and how to trigger purchase recursion via timely break-ups. Stay tuned!

Mobile development is all the rage, and the interactive industry is in great turmoil as countless tablets and smartphones come to market.

Mobile app development gets most of the attention, while the mobile web somewhat quietly creeps along. But the mobile web is making progress every day as more and more developers launch mobile-optimized interfaces.

The great thing about the mobile web is that it is fundamentally built with all of the same tools used in traditional web design and development.

This makes it far more approachable than app development. Also, many users will want to visit a company’s website on the go, without necessarily needing a full-blown app.

Building websites optimized for mobile is so similar yet so different then designing for the desktop. Certain factors take on a far more significant role. For example, screen size variations, user attention spans and usability issues are more critical then ever.

These same issues are ever present on the desktop but are sometimes easier to overlook. Here we’ll look at some lessons to learn from the optimization that is happening on the mobile web. The lessons can directly inform how we design and how we think about traditional web design and website architecture.

 

Simplified navigation on mobile websites

One of the first things that becomes evident when digging into mobile websites is the extreme simplification of the navigation. Navigation not only becomes very prominent and central on a mobile website, but is also quite often trimmed down substantially to focus on only the most critical elements.

I find it amazing how top-level navigation can be boiled down to two to four items on most mobile websites. Of course, I recognize that the content on a mobile website is quite often optimized for the intended audience. For example, Truth Tabernacle Church has six options in its main navigation, only one of which has made it into the navigation for the mobile version; and the one that made it (“Contact”) is the focus of the entire home page.

The content that didn’t make it into the mobile version is, of course, still entirely relevant. The mobile interface is intended to catch people trying to find the church or check out the service times or simply contact them. These are the most likely objectives of the mobile surfer. Those hitting the full website on a desktop computer are as likely to want those things as they are to want to research the church to see whether it is the sort of place they would like to visit.

So, what is the lesson to learn? Don’t these two interfaces target totally different audiences and have totally different purposes? Perhaps, but we can learn a lot from the extreme focus of the mobile interface. Notice how everything is about the actions you can take? The church has eliminated all of the navigation elements that feel like boxes to check off.

One interesting element is the “About” navigation option on the full website. The mobile website may be optimized for people on the go, but there is no reason to assume that they wouldn’t be interested in reading about the church and its beliefs. Someone may have mentioned the church to you in passing, prompting you to look it up on your phone.

So, the navigation option for this element should be changed. What if, instead, it communicated something like, “What you should know about us”? While a bit long, it reflects a more helpful attitude. A general “About” bucket feels like a place to hold all of the information that no one reads. “A visitor’s guide to our church” feels a lot more useful and targeted.

The simplicity and focus of the mobile interface shows that everything must have a purpose to earn a slot on the website. If the same were true of the full website, we would be less inclined to fill it with seemingly important content and more inclined to make sure everything has a clear function.

This reflects a very task-oriented mentality. Every option challenges the user to take some active step. It is as though every passive option has been purged and reduced to actionable items on the mobile website. This leads us to the next lesson: be extremely task-oriented.

 

Mobile websites are task-oriented

With a task-oriented mindset, let’s reconsider the full website. While the home page is beautifully designed, the call to action is far less evident. The content is full of bits of information waiting for you to decide to be interested.

For example, the large banner highlighting a coming event fails to call me to some kind of action; very passive. With a task-oriented mentality, we could vastly improve on the “Read more” call to action. This could be as simple as making the call to action much more prominent; for example, a large button in a contrasting orange. Additionally, the call could be changed to “Learn more and sign up.”

Another example is the welcome message. I appreciate the intention and the message being communicated here. The message shows that real people are behind the website, and it attempts to make the page feel personal. But again, let’s dissect this with a task-oriented mentality. A great follow-up to an introduction like this would be a clear call to action encouraging visitors to take the next step. After all, the only people who will be reading this are newcomers. Current members will skip right past this to things like the event calendar. So, offer a conversion point for users, like “Ask us a hard question” or “What to expect when you visit.”

By contrast, the “Special guest” box is fantastic. It addresses key issues and drives people to dig deeper. I only wonder whether it could be a more prominent element of the page. Again, members will get to where they need to go; so focusing on those who are new to the website and the church would go a long way to maximizing the opportunity.

I know I am really beating this website up, but it is not because I dislike it or think that it doesn’t serve its function. My goal is only to challenge our thinking and our preconceived notions of what a website should look like and do. I actually commend this church for having a beautiful and functional website, with a mobile extension to boot!

 

Mobile websites dramatically shrink their content

Another obvious lesson related to paring down the navigation is that mobile websites invariably shrink their content. Not only are the number of options reduced to the core functionality and purpose of the website, but the copy is vastly reduced, too.

In some cases, much of the copy is eliminated entirely! This begs the question, is this content necessary on the full website if the mobile version functions well without it? Divi Aruba is a great example of this. The alluring marketing speak laid overtop the photo might seem like a must-have element for the home page, but it has been nuked on the micro mobile website.

On the mobile version, the logo is placed on top of the same image, and yet it still conveys the exact same message: if you want to go some place like this, read on. Why not use this prominent spot to drive people to the desired action? Surely the designers know what is the most critical element for converting visitors to customers. Put this information to work, and drive people there with a prominent call to action instead of fluffy marketing speak.

 

All the good stuff, sans fluff

This leads us to the next lesson: lose the fluff. The next example is a positive demonstration of this. Travel Tex is a travel information website for the state of Texas. It has a clear purpose and audience in mind. Fortunately, the designers have fully embraced the fluffy-less mindset.

Not only does the mini mobile website focus entirely on the topic at hand and the key actionable items, but so does the full website! What a relief to see almost no fluff at all. Including something dreary like a history of Texas would be all too tempting. If people wanted a history lesson, they wouldn’t come this website. You will be hard pressed to find content that is not relevant to this website’s singular purpose.

Get into the habit of questioning everything. This is the only way to really boil a website down to its critical elements, which is exactly what happens on a good mobile website. Tough choices are made and otherwise valuable content is cut in order to streamline the website. Call fluff for what it is and nuke it!

 

Branding is king on the mobile web

I am all about creativity on the web. In fact, many of the greatest changes in the industry have come about as a result of a refusal to stick to the status quo. But there is a time and place for everything. So many designers use their assignments as an excuse to release their creative juices, for no other purpose than to do something creative. This turns the website into a design for the designer, not for the client and their needs. This is one thing the mobile web warns against rather boldly.

Branding is incredibly consistent on the mobile web, and one of the most consistent parts is the placement of the logo. On mobile websites, you won’t find any crazy logos at the bottom with fixed footers. Functionality is king, and logos always appear at the top. Can you imagine hitting a mobile website and not seeing the logo right away? Yet this is commonplace on many full websites.

Here are a few websites that, while minimal and lacking in mind-blowing style, are rich in branding that can’t be missed.

The lesson here can have a profound impact on how you approach your work and on the fundamental value you pose to your clients. For every designer who figures out that the client’s needs should be their entire purpose for the project, there is another who wants to show the world how creative and original they are.

Like anyone else involved in the production of a website, the web designer should be single-minded in serving the client, helping their business and improving the bottom line. With every element you put on a mobile website, considers its role and the benefit it will bring. Apply this mentality to everything you do, and you will soon find a strong ally in your client.

The more we embrace the needs of the client and do everything we can to bring value to their website, the more we will see a fundamental shift in our work. We will go from building “cool stuff” to looking at everything from the client’s perspective. Does this feature stand to increase their profit? How can the design be changed to improve their business? If a byproduct of your work is more money for the client, then you will find opportunity everywhere.

 

Websites without the gimmicks

One of the greatest achievements of the mobile web is the total lack of gimmicks. To be fair, there is a time and place for gimmicks on the web. In fact, I dedicate whole sections of my books to them. But the lack of gimmicks on mobile websites demonstrates that these seemingly great ideas serve no real purpose.

Everything that goes on a mobile website should go through several filters. Is the content relevant and utterly useful? Is the content critical, and does it serve the core purpose of the website? Is the website easy to use and understand? Is the navigation unconventional? If so, is it critical to the function of the website? The answer may well be yes, but more often than not, it will be a decisive no.

Some gimmicks that are noticeably absent from mobile development are splash screens, unusual navigation, meaningless animations and interactivity, inline scrolling regions, odd layouts and fixed-width layouts. The efficiency of the mobile web is amazing.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, we have a number of lessons to learn from the mobile web; particularly, its ability to reveal unnecessary elements of a website. As with many things in life, a slight change in perspective often opens our eyes to the true value of things we have long taken for granted.

I am not suggesting that we have lost sight of the purpose of the web. Rather, I am proposing that we adopt a far more strategic mentality.

Peter Drucker is one of the most influential business writers of the last century. His ideas have shaped the ways we conduct business today. One of Drucker’s main ideas was the notion that without a customer, there is no business. Furthermore, customer satisfaction is the key to the success of any business, or in his words: “The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.”

To that, I say amen. Here’s the tricky part, though: satisfying all of your customers is simply not feasible unless you choose the right ones and let go of the rest. How do you do that? First, you have to set principles for identifying good customers. Then, evaluate potential customers against those principles, and bid farewell to those who don’t measure up… yes, even if you currently work with them.

Crafting Your Principles

The quest for good customers starts early on. It starts with deciding who your ideal customer is. Different companies have different ideals and cultures, and a variety of parameters are important for making this decision.

Here are the parameters to consider:

  • Size
    What sizes are the companies you have enjoyed working with? Do you prefer to work with small family businesses or large corporations?
  • Budget
    What is your minimum project budget? Will you take on a project with a tight budget if the customer is strategic?
  • Payment schedule
    Would you agree to receiving the full payment at the end of the project? If not, what’s the minimum up front that you require? This is often a pain point for small businesses and freelancers, and I strongly recommend following a harsh rule here with no exceptions.
  • Technical knowledge
    Are you willing to work with a customer who has minimal technical knowledge? How might this affect the outcome of the project?
  • Project dynamics
    Are you looking for a customer who will just give you the requirements and then wait for the deliverables, or would you prefer a more engaged client? On projects in which you collaborated with the client daily, were the results better or worse than those of projects with less interaction?
  • Length of relationship
    Are you interested in one-time gigs or a long-term working relationship? If you are thinking long term, estimate whether a particular customer would have enough projects to sustain that.
  • Personality fit

    What kind of people do you like to work with? Check with other companies that have worked with your prospective customer to find out whether there were any personality clashes during their projects.

Qualification Is Crucial

If you get this right, you will gradually see your customer relationships improve. More importantly, you will be less likely to wake up asking yourself why you are working on your current project.

To keep it simple, I’d recommend a total of four to five principles; but as with everything, tailor it to your own business. One effective method I have found is to set your principles in a spreadsheet, rank them, and then decide on a cut-off average for qualification. This is a great tool for identifying deals with higher average scores or for deciding between two potential deals. We’ve prepared an example of such a spreadsheet (Excel Spreadsheet).

A simple and efficient way to determine whether you’ve ranked your principles correctly is to look at past projects and make sure they align with your cut-off average. Specifically, make sure that past projects that really sucked get a low score, so that you avoid taking on similar projects in future.

Don’t be afraid to share your principles with potential customers. Some might show flexibility. A few years ago, when I approached a freelancer for a potential design project, he made it clear to me that he would charge 50% up front and 50% upon completion of the project. I told him we couldn’t accept such payment terms. He immediately wished me luck. You know what? I was so impressed by his confidence that I called him back and hired him anyway.

Self-Qualification

The qualification principles are important because they can also be a great time-saver. I call this self-qualification. The idea is simple. Now that you know what matters most in your relationships with customers, you can signal that on your website, filtering customers who you would never want to work with.

For instance, you can be clear about the prices you charge and the projects you’ll take on. Read this beautifully crafted message from Forty:

“We try to avoid very small projects (under $10k) because our process doesn’t work well at that scale. Likewise, we also pass on very large projects (over $300k) because they’re just not much fun to work on.”

Forty in How To Identify Good Clients (and Avoid Bad Ones)

You can be sure that Forty is saving a lot of time by not dealing with customers who want a plain WordPress skin for $500. The company also subtly hints that the big guys needn’t call it either. It has decided that it doesn’t enjoy big lengthy projects, which are usually initiated by big messy corporations. To make sure prospective customers get the picture, Forty specifies its hourly cost straightforwardly: “Our base rate is $145/hour.”

Another beautiful thing to notice is that personality comes through the text on the website. You can be sure that anyone who takes themselves too seriously won’t be contacting the company. And that’s perfect! It helps the agency focus on the right set of customers.

We see the same approach with Blue Flavor: clear, detailed pricing accompanied by a clear message, setting the stage for the initial communication:

Bluefavor in How To Identify Good Clients (and Avoid Bad Ones)

Nclud takes a different approach by including a drop-down form in which the customer can indicate their budget. This again makes clear the range of projects the company is willing to take on:

Nclud in How To Identify Good Clients (and Avoid Bad Ones)

Ngen uses the same “trick.” The difference in the messages that these two menus send is interesting. Judging from the budget ranges, Nclud probably handles bigger projects:

Ngen in How To Identify Good Clients (and Avoid Bad Ones)

Never Too Late To Say Goodbye

Assuming you’re passionate about your profession, let’s make one thing clear: you should enjoy the work that you do. If you don’t enjoy your work, that means you’ve taken on a frustrating project or, worse, a frustrating customer.

That can happen. In fact, it happens a lot. And even if you employ the principles mentioned above, it will still happen. But that doesn’t mean you have to continue suffering. No matter how many hours you have invested, if a project doesn’t work, it will continue not to work, and you will only experience more grief. Kill it as early as possible. That would be best for both you and the customer.

So, why would you fire a customer? Let’s look at five reasons:

  1. The customer is abusive.
    This is an easy one. You should be treated with respect and dignity, and you should not tolerate any kind of abusive language or behavior. Period.
  2. You don’t get paid on time.
    You are not a bank. Be willing to bend over backwards for your clients, but they must pay you on time. A customer who doesn’t understand this will hurt your cash flow and, eventually, your business.
  3. You get phone calls at nights or on weekends, even though you insisted otherwise.
    People have to respect your time and not act as though they own it. You are selling your professional services, not yourself.
  4. The scope of the project perpetually increases, but the customer refuses to increase the budget.
    This happens a lot. You start a logo, and then the client asks you to throw in a website. The responsibility for setting expectations is yours, but if you do that, and the customer still pushes for more without being willing to increase the budget, then you’ll end up with an unprofitable business.
  5. The customer doesn’t respect you professionally and ignores your recommendations.
    To stop caring and just take orders from the customer takes all the fun out of a project. It kills your productivity, erodes your portfolio and stunts your skills.

Obviously, an important question is whether you can afford to fire your client. This is a valid concern, and it depends on the circumstances. This goes back to what you value in customers, and so this will vary from company to company.

If you have many projects waiting on deck, you could probably fire a customer without hurting your revenue. In fact, by working with someone who don’t fit your business values, you are probably giving up on great customers who could take your company to the next level. Take all of these factors into consideration when deciding.

If you do decide to fire a customer, you should seriously consider how to go about it without hurting your relationship with them and without risking your reputation.

Some ways are better than others. The fact that you didn’t get along with this person doesn’t make them bad. It simply means that your values or personalities do not match. More often than not, you will be the one who has to pick up the phone. Follow these steps:

  1. Prepare for the call. Look hard again at your decision to make sure it is the right one.
  2. In the call, explain the reasons for your decision, and point out that it was a business decision, not a personal one.
  3. Help the customer find someone else who would be willing to work with them. Other firms or professionals would likely be happy to get the opportunity.
  4. Bill what you deserve.
  5. Note what you learned from the relationship, and add it to your qualification process.
  6. Most importantly, move on.

At the end of the day, the Pareto effect applies to some degree: 20% of your customers are profitable, fun to work with and contribute to 80% of your growth. The ideas explored above could help you increase that 20% to 30, 50 or even 90%.

In Conclusion

Working with the wrong customers has ramifications. Designer David Thorne relates one email exchange of his that serves as a funny yet unfortunate reminder of this. It didn’t matter to David that he had already spent hours working for that customer; he understood that the relationship was not for him, so he ended it.

If you are disciplined and follow this simple process, you will see an increase in successful projects. And your life will be better, too.