How a better design can kill your website

After enjoying a two week vacation in Europe, I arrived back in the US, and back at work, with the reality of a prediction of mine come true; and of course I was to blame? That is the problem with being an Interaction designer (Id), because you get blamed a lot.

One thing you get to realize when being an Id is that you are working on something invisible, something virtual. You are designing and guiding users behavior. A graphic designer is at least creating something physical, a design, something you can see. A project designer creates a visible scope. An Id is trying to make users not immediately surf away from your website or close the application.

That is why many Id-ers are also graphic designers, because then at least they have a bit control over the graphic design matching the planned behavior path of the users. But the task of an Id sometimes mean changing a graphic design, sometimes a by the client beloved (or worse, designed) design. It is so much more than a user interface.

And one project I have been working on for a client, was one in which I had designed a website and an interaction design, and it worked out fine. Time given the design was clean, and performed quite well; 80 pageviews per visit on an average, the content was visited nicely. The traffic was horrible, but getting traffic to the site was in this case up to the marketing people.

But somehow, the client wanted a new design, insisted on it simply because after 5 months, they had seen it enough (yes, a reason I hear very often from clients). So this time, they decided to have it completely designed by a graphic designer, not working with any interaction designer. The result is absolutely a good looking website. And it went live the first day of my vacation.

And of course, the results were disastrous. Because, although the site looked good, people did not know what to do anymore, were not expecting a re-design and had now to search all their familiar functionalities again, and most users do not put up with that. There were no tests run before the launch, and it had cost the client dearly. Pageviews went down by more then 60%, revenue was down, advertisers got angry and some went away. People canceled their email subscriptions. And it is not anything about the content of the website, since that hasn’t changed a bit.

So, since they like the design, it was not the design’s problem… it then – logically – was the Id’s problem. The Id that was not involved in this design in any way.

So it is my advice, and I have seen this happening before, take your Id seriously, let him or her do his work. He/she knows things that are not apparent, and some change-requests might require a less pretty, but better functioning design. Because once your users are walking, they are not coming back.

It is not always about the design. Most of the most succesful sites do not have, what you would call, a gorgeous design. Take a look at Craigslist, eBay, nyTimes, even Apple is not the best of the best… but it works.

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