January 18, 2014

Jared Spool: Delightful Content Means Business

On Thursday I attended a talk by Jared Spool, who is a leader in the study of usability. Below are a few notes from his talk that I thought might be good to share. Since I've paraphrased and condensed what he mentioned I've possibly misrepresented some nuance but hope I captured the essence.

Content is what users want right now. A key example was a commerce site where searching for "return policy" returned no results. The owners didn't think of the return policy as content but from a user's perspective that was what they wanted and it led to a lost sale.

Visual design plays a vital roll in calling out important data. He showed example websites where the key content was lost among the clutter of advertising and links to other content. Talked about trying to redesign the Delta boarding pass: http://passfail.squarespace.com/

A key piece of his talk was the need to connect business outcomes to content and design. Poor content can hurt your business. While cause and effect could be debated, he gave the example of Apple's iOS 6 maps launch and the decline of their stock price. There were many examples of how badly the map content failed users. Turns out Google used 2 orders of magnitude more data sources to create Google maps and having been at it almost a decade had figured out and cleaned up most of the mistakes. On the flip side content can create business success. He gave the example of the Montreal Gazette which during the NHL lockout started simulating the season in EA sports and writing up the results. That led to some of the highest readership they had ever gotten: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-27/in-montreal-the-nhl-season-is-off-to-a-dream-start While successful, it was an unexpected fluke. The hard part is getting from desired outcomes, such as increased readership, to the correct strategy to take to get there.

When thinking about strategy he mentioned a lot of usability has focused on removing user frustration. This is important but the discussion should start to switch to how do we add delight for users. One phrase he used later that spoke to this was "design is the rendering of intent."

Why not think about content and design and how it relates to standard business goals: increase revenue, decrease costs, increase new business, increase value from existing customers, and increase shareholder value. He walked through a bunch of examples mapping how content and design choices addressed one or more of those goals such as Zappos' easy return policy.

Returning to the clutter of many web pages he commented on the drive for more advertising increasing the disconnect between what content people want and what content they get when visiting a page. Advertising can work but it works best in the context of a seducible moment. He gave an example of a woman who came in for a usability study and in the course of it ended up on a page talking about what to expect during the 14th week of pregnancy. At the bottom of the page was an advertisement to purchase a book that talked about pregnancy week by week. Even though it wasn't part of the study she bought the book right then since she didn't know if she'd be able to find the page again.

He broke down advertising into a quadrant with the x-axis going from disruptive to integrated and the y-axis going from broadcast to targeted. Interstitial full page ads were disruptive broadcast advertising while word of mouth was an integrated and targeted. Banner ads, related articles, and other examples fell at various locations within the quadrant. If you do have advertising thinking about where it falls is important to understanding if it will delight or frustrate users.

Lastly he talked about money being wasted on advertising since it has been notoriously hard to gauge return on investment. Many companies don't want to give up advertising since intangibles like brand recall are an important aspect. To counter that he gave the example of "plop, plop, fizz, fizz" not translating into sales as no one in the audience had purchased that product recently. I would counter that such an example doesn't take into account the seducible moment of what someone who is out seeking relief would buy in the drugstore. Instead he felt companies should spend less on advertising and put more into content and experience. He gave the NYTimes was an example as site redesign removes the majority of advertising space, focuses on the content, and the paywall is generating more revenue than they ever got through advertising.

As a key focus was the intersection of business and design he has a new venture focused on that at: http://unicorninstitute.com/

Tags: usability