During these audits we’ll find the usual litany of broken links, missing meta-descriptions, ambiguous navigation and Frankenstein architecture. Most of these issues are reasonably easy to triage.
There is however another more subtle and intractable problem that we frequently encounter. The problem is associated with site structure, and is a product of the simple fact that we and, by extension, the design decisions we make about our websites, are products of our environment. And the finance industry is particularly guilty.
We all become inexorably assimilated into our organisations; becoming fluent in both its organizational structure and lexicon. This makes it difficult for us to contemplate alternative organizational or presentational strategies for our products and services. It can become difficult to recognize when customers’ requirements don’t fit neatly into our departmental organizational silos.
We recently audited a financial client’s site, where for some categories of users, flow analysis identified some navigational issues. The site’s traditional hierarchical organization mirrored the company’s physical organization – siloing products and services into departments, and departments into associated product categories. Whilst the organization of products and services in this manner would be familiar and intuitive to navigate for just about any employee, it was clearly failing for some user types.
Departmental hierarchies don’t reflect search needs
It’s likely that for the original site architect, this structure made a lot of sense – not least because it was familiar to all stakeholders and would have been easy to rationalize and gain consensus quickly. But here’s the thing, it’s seldom the case that departmental taxonomies reflect real search needs. By way of example, think about a prospective business banking customer who’s on the cusp of setting up her own business. She has a number of different financial requirements all relating to the set-up of her business, to include: establishing a commercial bank account, managing cash flow, accessing lending, managing payments and receivables not to mention tax and online access requirements.
By forcing the visitor to deconstruct her requirements into the departmental landscape and then drill into each silo sequentially to answer all her questions requires more time and patience than most customers are willing to invest.
The consequence for the bank is that it inadvertently limits cross-sell opportunities – as, more often than not, the customer sets up a current account (the bare minimum) then taps out.
Make. It. Easy.
Now let’s imagine a different navigation, where the site hierarchy and cross-links anticipate a founder’s specific requirements, and take her on a seamless lateral journey through a suite of the products and services that she’s going to need – and where each new product or service is pre-configured using the info provided in the initial account application. Crazy talk – right! Think about the last time you booked a flight on-line, and were offered both a hotel and car hire at your destination, travel insurance for the duration of your travel, airport parking at your point of departure, etc etc. Ok maybe airlines go too far, but if it didn’t work, it’s difficult to think they’d persist with the extended check out.
Overcoming Confirmation Bias
Now given that most site owners employed some form of “voice of customer” UX research during the design and prototyping phases; how then did the resultant sites miss some basic customer requirements? The likely answer is that our natural biases affect the way we interpret customer feedback; this phenomenon is a form of confirmation bias – where we subconsciously attach greater importance to those data that fit our preconceptions.
So, recognising that our design and architecture decisions are liable to environmental bias – what’s the solution? The honest answer is that there’s no magic bullet. If we’re serious about guarding against the problems of confirmation bias, then one idea might be to involve someone from outside the company, and perhaps even industry; whose job it is to ask the simple and apparently naïve questions in a bid to arrive at a normalized interpretation of the data. Although this approach is time-consuming ,and is likely to increase the amount of time spent arguing over design and architecture, set against the cost of missing actual customer requirements and or the cost of post-launch re-design, then it just might be time and money well spent.
If you’d like us to take an unbiased look at your site hierarchy or user journeys, get in touch with us today.