Posts Tagged ‘critical path’

Better User Experience Podcast #19 – The Top 10 Key UX Concepts We’ve Learned in the Past 4 Months

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ve been doing this learning-about-UX thing for a little over 4 months now. On today’s podcast we take a look back at the Top 10 things we learned in that time. If you’ve been following the site over the past week you know that we’ve already covered this material in two posts. But like any good discussion, we dig a bit further into each topic on the podcast.

Top 10 Key UX Concepts We’ve Learned (So Far)

10. Proactive vs. Reactive
9. UX Testing Resistance
8. The Power of Process
7. The Difference Between User Experience and Usability
6. The Critical Path
4. Prove vs. Improve
3. Signal vs. Noise / Information Theory / Entropy
2. Quick Tests Can Be Valuable
1. There’s a Great UX Community

Remember you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes – new episodes each week!

Follow us on Twitter: @BUXofficial

Friend us on Facebook:

View us on Youtube:

Looking Back: 10 Key Usability Concepts: Part 1

December 14, 2011 5 comments

We started this website in late August, 18 weeks ago. It’s a learning experiment. We were two buddies, both web designers, who wanted to know more about web usability and user testing. We gave ourselves the goal of learning what we could by December 15th.

By my calendar, that’s tomorrow.

It’s also nearing the end of the year. And the end of the year is always a time for reflection and for taking stock.

Since we’re at the end of our original learning period, Newman and I felt it was only right to look back on what we’ve learned to see what the key takeaways have been.

We created a list of our Top 10 Key Concepts we feel we learned about building better websites.

This is a decent chunk of material to get through so we’ll be covering this topic for the next three posts.  Today, numbers 10-6. On Friday, numbers 5-1. And on Monday, a podcast where we hash it all out. It’ll be fun!

10. Proactive vs. Reactive

Proactive > Reactive

The natural state of things is to be reactive. Reacting will save your skin if you are trying to run from a giant tiger leaping out from the jungle.  In our modern times, troubling as they may be, there are no tigers.  Death isn’t constantly at the door (and if it is, you’re doing it wrong).

Reacting has a down side though: the success of the reactor depends on the actor.

For a business owner, or really, any goal oriented individual, it’s a bad place to be.

Oh, it’s a comfortable place to be, but it’s not really how you want to be. Nobody has ever gotten their way because they were reactive. You don’t lose weight by not worrying about it. You don’t grow your business by only taking the business that comes through the door. It’s not a long-term strategy.

The advantage of being proactive is that you get to actually have a strategy. It’s chess, not checkers.

We talked about this as it relates to the small business owner back in September where we described an ideal initial meeting and how to create valuable monthly reports.  This is important for UX designers because testing is inherently a proactive thing. It doesn’t happen in a reactive system. This is why oftentimes a cold wind starts to blow when the topic of user testing comes up.  And it’s also the next key concept we ran into:

9. UX Testing Resistance

Resist user testing your website? A little activation energy is required, I suspect.

When told clients and business owners we know about UX testing, they generally respond negatively.  “Watch people use our site and ask them stuff? Nah, I think the site is fine.” they would say.  While we didn’t expect them to jump for joy, we did expect a little more… interest.

Why did they react this way?  It’s because oftentimes it’s being introduced into a reactive environment and it rubs the wrong way.

I grew up playing the drums and I once got a piece of advice about how to play. The idea is that a drummer typically plays a little behind the beat or a little ahead of the beat. And either one is okay to do. The one thing you can’t do as a drummer is to shift from playing behind the beat to ahead of the beat mid-song.

That’s what introducing a proactive element into a reactive system is like.  And its what accounts for a large amount of a business owner’s gut resistance to it. It doesn’t fit their work model.

And for the ones that it does, it’s still a matter of getting it incorporated into their system. So it’s a bit of an uphill battle, at least initially, unless you have forward-thinking clients.

Like most everything, the proof is in the pudding, and most businesses come around once they realize that user testing is a key component in raising their web site’s revenue.

8. The Power of Process

One ring to rule them all

What's your mental image of ultimate power? This is mine.

User testing fits best inside a larger structure of improvement and goal setting and seeking. It practically begs for it. The reason somebody would do a user test is because they plan on iterating their website. And once a website has been iterated, the change – good or bad – can be measured.

And that is essentially all the process you need.  Once it becomes evident that sales/leads/revenue increases when improvements are made to the website and that the improvements are discovered through user testing – goal setting and allocating a proper budget for growing the web business will follow.  The process will emerge. It has to. It’s how we make the website a better producer.

7. The Difference Between User Experience and Usability

User Experience Design

User Experience Design is the umbrella term for many difference fields, including usability

It seems every sub-culture or community has weird semantic issues.  When it comes to naming things, people aren’t very good.  We like to borrow words that aren’t clear and then use them indiscriminately.  As we jumped into the world of UX – which is short-hand for User Experience – we discovered a whole new vocabulary.  One of the keys was understanding that User Experience was the umbrella, the super-system which includes Usability.

Usability is the technical side of UX.  It is quantifiable and measured with tools like google analytics and A/B tests. User experience includes the qualitative and holistic experience.  It’s harder to measure and includes emotions and feelings of the users.  It is mysterious and an inexact science, but doing the ux techniques can reveal mistakes in a web design and improve sites.

6. The Critical Path

jeep ad

Two Critical Paths! I found it... wait a minute. PHOTOSHOP!

We first talked about the critical path back in late September in the post “Cut the Chute and Get on the Critical Path (to Profit)”. The concept is an easy one: design your website so that all of the energy is about moving a user from the beginning of the process to the end of the process. Define the pages in the critical process and boom, there’s your critical path.

But more important for me was the ability to finally know what’s supposed to go on a website.

That sounds like a shameful thing to admit: a web designer doesn’t know what’s supposed to go on a web site. But as a designer, we get wrapped up in the technical aspects of what we do. When we nerd out on our thing, we argue about technical arcana. For nerds, it’s not about solving business problems. That’s why there are business guys.

But business guys don’t know either. I’ve been building websites for a long time and it’s rare that a business owner takes ownership over the content and ordering of that content on the website.

They just leave it up to the nerds, and at least in the local market, nobody seems to specialize in knowing what goes where.

So the critical path is a big f-ing deal.  Now we have a way to lay everything out: Do it in the way that makes the most sense to achieve the objective of the website.

Join us on Friday for #5-#1 on the list!

User-Testing in 3 Questions: Why Drive-By User Testing Works

December 7, 2011 1 comment

[Note: In Monday’s podcast I said we were going to be doing a real user test today. We’ve decided to push that back to next week. We had two more items we wanted to get to first.]

When we first started learning about user testing back in August, I was under the presumption that user testing was essentially a controlled, systematic endeavor. But as Steve Krug and Jakob Neilsen will tell you, there’s more than one way to test a cat. (That’s a direct quote, I believe.) A lot can be gained just by getting feedback from somebody. They argue that the name of the game is improving your website (not testing a hypothesis) and that most major issues on a website are visible to most users.

Krug advocates companies set aside one morning a month to do three user tests. Then, debrief over lunch.

This rapid-testing idea was inspiring. It’s like everybody knows what’s not working on your site, and to learn the secret to what’s broken, all you have to do is ask them to tell you about it. Whoa!

You said it.

But is that true?

Are we all walking around with an innate sense of what sucks on websites? And if so, why can’t we design a perfect one out of the gate? If we all have the magical power of user testing, why can’t we user-test our own site and save the time, cost, and hassle of asking other people?


The reason you can’t user test your own website is because you’re too close to it. You’re like a director who can’t enjoy his own movie in the same way as a regular viewer because you remember what happened off screen. When you look at your own website you remember the versions of the site that almost were and you know intimately the reasons and compromises that went into creating your current website. You can’t see the forest for the trees.

Your average user is focused on a completely different experience. They are focused on what game theorists call “utility-value maximization”. In plain English, it means that people are goal oriented on websites. It’s built into the way the Internet works. We click on links because we want to access new content. Each click is a statement of purpose. When a user visits your website, they are there for a reason and they have a goal in mind. Han Solo had it right about web design when he said, “Give the wookie what he wants.”

Mental Models

Have you ever helped a relative get a computer or get on the Internet or otherwise interface with a completely new piece of technology for the first time? Do you remember the first time you opened Photoshop or Illustrator or Dreamweaver or the first time you tried to center something with CSS and you had that feeling that you were in completely new territory?

That happens when you have no way to contextualize what you’re seeing with your previous experience.

People create mental models of all their behaviors. Have you ever caught yourself having a dumb conversation with somebody about the weather when (a) you don’t really know why you’re talking to them in the first place and (b) there’s nothing special about the weather? Why do we do that?

Or how about in movies and TV shows when people hang up the phone without saying goodbye first. That’s always weird to me. It’s because my mental model includes goodbye language at the end of phone conversations and in TV shows, it doesn’t advance the plot so it isn’t necessary.

Once you get your non-techie relative online, they too will begin to create a mental model of how the Internet works. Some of it will be based on fact. A lot of it will be based on feelings and intuition that is not correct. (I’m reminded of an old boss who, every time he saw the Blue Scree of Death on his PC would scream “BILL GATES!”) But people don’t get retrained when they learn the Internet wrong. Nope, we just deal and hope they catch up.

Jakob Nielsen points out many of the points of technical confusion in his blog post on the same topic.

  • Operating-system windows vs. browser windows
  • A window vs. an application,
  • Icons vs. applications,
  • Browser commands vs. native commands in a Web-based app
  • Local vs. remote info
  • Different passwords and log-in options (users often log in to other websites as if they were logging in to their email)

In short, when it comes to computers, a lot of us are still getting our act together. What happens as people gain experience using the Internet is they gain an intuition for how websites are supposed to work. And that’s why there’s a great list of usability conventions to use when developing your website.

What does this mean for web sites and user testing?

Signal vs. Noise

All communications come down to the issue of signal vs. noise. Those of us old enough to remember when Sprint was a long distance company who had sound quality so clear you could hear a pin drop have experience with the problem. In any communication medium, whether it’s spoken and heard, or transmitted by radio, TV, print, telegram, fax machine, or Internet, the message must be transmitted and it must be received. The message is encoded in a language and in a medium, and in a context. In order for it to be decoded correctly, the person receiving the message must understand the language, have access to the medium, and know the context in which the message is meant.

See? Easy.

Think of a physical long-distance phone line. The reason Sprint was so happy about their clear signal is because it’s hard to eliminate all the noise. Static, buzzing, clicks, pops – all could (and did) effect the ability to be heard.

When you think about a telephone line, the communication can be broken down into two parts:

  1. The mechanical workings of transmitting a person’s voice from one place to another and,
  2. The content of the communication

If you were to user-test the phone line, you could test for the same two attributes above:

  1. The quality of message transmission and,
  2. The content of the message

Unless you own a tin-foil hat, phone companies today don’t care about the content of your phone calls, texts, and messages. They are focused on delivering on the quality of message transmission. Also, because we all have such a complete mental model on how to make a phone call, it turns out that isn’t the part of the phone business that’s growing now. The user experience for making and receiving phone calls is essentially complete. The new wrinkle is welding the digital side of things to the phone. Now it’s all about experiencing the mobile Internet. And that, invariably, leads to more half-baked mental models for using the Internet.

The Medium vs. the Message

Like the double rainbow dude, we’re left to wonder, “What does it all mean!?”

Let’s cut to the chase.

When you add up the fact that there are so many ways to leave a page – from going to another site, clicking the back button, closing the window, getting up and walking away, clicking into a different window, getting distracted, plus the various mental models that people have for how the Internet should work, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of noise in the channel.

In the physical long-distance phone line we discussed earlier, the medium was the phone line. In your website your critical path is the medium.

Now let’s think about that for a second. Remember how earlier we said that clicking a link is a statement of intent. It could be that the user is expecting to end up on a YouTube video or is expecting to see an Amazon page for digital cameras or is looking for an article on Wikipedia or a house on an MLS. The content is the message. The Internet is the medium. And getting to your content is part of the medium.

We’ve all dropped a call on our mobile phone. There’s a distinct difference between a phone call where you’ve said everything you wanted to and hung up and when the call drops. When the call drops – you can’t communicate any longer. In the same way, if your website can’t get the user to the content they’re looking for, then it can’t deliver the message. It’s a failure of the medium to deliver the message.  The noise in your website has to be low enough so that people can find the signal they are searching for.

This signal, the message, is what the message says. It’s the literal content of your website. This is why developing a strong critical path is so crucial. The only way to be heard above the din of distraction is to have a focused message and to provide an obvious way to access that content.

What we’re talking about here is signal quality. And all that’s necessary to test a signal is somebody on the other end to describe what they’re getting.

If we were testing long-distance phone service we’d whip on some glasses, stomp through the woods and ask “Can you hear me now?“. But since we’re testing websites, all that’s required is to ask somebody else what they see on your website.

User Testing in 3 Questions

When you’re looking for quick insights about your website, you’re looking to know something about signal strength. It’s evident in the type of questions that are asked.

Take the basic questions from’s test:

  1. What frustrated you most about this site?
  2. If you had a magic wand, how would you improve this site?
  3. What did you like about the site?

None of them concern the content on the website. All of them are testing either signal or noise.

Break down the expected answers:

  1. What frustrated you the most? 99% of the time this is going to be an answer that relates to not being able to find something. It could also have something to do with your messaging.
  2. How would you improve the site? Because you directed them to the site and not what your site sells or provides, this answer is going to relate somehow either to accessing information or clarifying options.
  3. What did you like about the site? This will help with positive feedback and will help you confirm areas of the website that perform well or stand out to the user.

Nothing in there explicitly dealt with the quality of the material. What’s important is strengthening the signal.

I should state that these are not the only questions you could use in a 3-question test. You can test the critical path, a secondary path, or test for comprehension and cognitive load with your site structure without knowing anything about the user.

And we’re going to prove it. Next week, with a little luck, we’ll bring you a video of our own 3 question drive-by user test.

Using Bounce Rates in Google Analytics to Improve Your Web Site’s Critical Path

November 23, 2011 1 comment

Google Analytics is a fantastic program for assessing the performance of a website. It’s THE primary fixture for most small and medium websites when it comes to measuring traffic. By now, most people are familiar with tracking visits, visitors, pageviews, referring sites, search engine traffic, and so forth. A good deal of users are also tracking sales, leads, and revenue.

These are wonderful things to be doing. They’re essential to any business that’s serious about growing their web presence.

But if you could only measure one thing, what would it be?

As much as you’d think it’d be something like traffic or revenue, there’s really a more actionable metric.  Metrics are useless if they aren’t useful. I know that sounds like I was just channeling John Madden but think about it. Knowing the number of visitors, even if you knew them in relationship to previous months traffic isn’t very actionable. It just provokes a second question.

Why did x number of people come to my website last month?

And off you go to look at referral traffic data. But since we’re limiting ourselves to one metric, we can’t do that. So knowing how much traffic the site is getting, while awesome, isn’t actionable.

It’s the same story if you want to know about sales, leads, or revenue. They all beg a second question: why that particular number of sales, leads, or revenue? And off you go to look at your conversion funnel…

What we really need is a metric that tells us something about how the website is performing that is also tied in some way to increasing the bottom line.

Let’s cut to the chase: that metric exists, it’s the bees knees, and it’s called the Bounce Rate.

The bounce rate is a really simple concept to understand.

A bounce rate measures how many people came to a specific page on your website from someplace else on the Internet and then left without going deeper into your website. Or to put it more simply, it measures one-and-dones.

Why does this matter and how is it actionable?

It matters because people are likely to leave your website if they can’t find what they want. If you know what percentage of people are leaving a page and if that number is high, it tells you that something on that page is confusing to users. A low bounce rate indicates that people are able to see what they want and have clicked elsewhere on your site to find it.

Where the bounce rate really shines though is in how it can help you clean up your site’s critical path.

On your typical e-commerce site a critical path looks like this:

  • Front page
  • Category page
  • Sub-category page
  • Product Description page
  • Cart
  • Checkout – Shipping
  • Checkout – Billing
  • Checkout – Review
  • Checkout – Order Receipt

Just about all traffic will land on one of the first four pages – down to the product description page. Look at those pages in Google Analytics. What are their bounce rates? The first three pages are just filters so the bounce rate should be as close to 0% as possible. The product description page will have a higher bounce rate because it’s a destination page rather than a filter page. When people land on a destination page, they are making a decision about information on that page. They are no longer trying to find what they’re looking for. As such, it’s possible that the visitor won’t need to go further into your website. Because of this, it’s acceptable to have a bounce rate on your product description page. But you should really work on getting your filter pages as close to 0.00% as possible.

Start with the page with the highest bounce rate and see if there are any obvious reasons why people may be leaving the page without going deeper into the site. If you need it, consider a tool like Inspectlet so that you can see actual user behavior on your site. Work on refining your pages to lower your bounce rate.

It’ll have the effect of strengthening your critical path and will lead to higher goal conversions.

You can think of the bounce rate as the canary in the coal mine. It’ll let you know where the problems are. It’s up to other tools and user testing to suss out the specific problems on those pages but the bounce rate does a great job of focusing site updates on places where they will have an immediate positive effect.

10-Step Critical Path for a Successful Initial Meeting

November 11, 2011 3 comments

This post is Part 2 of a 2-part series of blog posts on the initial prospect meeting.  Jump into the first one or keep reading to jump right in the thick of it.

The setup for this meeting is one I’ve encountered dozens of times over the years: I’m out and about and meet a guy who runs a business. When he finds out that I do web design, he starts talking about how he needs to get his website into shape. We make an appointment to talk about it and that’s that.

From his point of view, he just made an appointment with a web guy to talk about websites. It’s no different to him than making an appointment with his car guy to change his oil.

But from my point of view, I want his website to work better for him. At the meeting, I’m going to tell him how I can make that happen. Chances are, it’s going to be a bit much to take in. My pitch has a high upside: more money comes out; but it also has a potential downside: loss of some control.  It won’t be a problem for every prospect, but it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind that change is hard for people. As an agent of change, you’re going to encounter some resistance from time to time. The key to lowering their resistance is to continually point back to how you’re working to meet their specific business goals.

The goals of this initial meeting are to:

  1. Find out if we are a good fit
  2. Kick start the relationship
  3. Find out their situation
  4. Propose a way forward
  5. Set a date for a future meeting to make things official

Not every meeting will go this way. It all depends on the relationship you have with your prospect before the meeting and whether or not they are willing to think and act on this level. Not everybody will get it, and that’s okay.  But in a general sense, here’s how I’d do it:

This is my 10-step critical path for a successful initial meeting with a prospective small business client.

1. Introductions

Take a few minutes and find some personal points of commonality. Try to connect with them. Do not be perfunctory with this. Take the time for a little business gossip. Be prepared but be genuine. It lays the foundation for the next part. If this were a date, consider it a quick coffee date. You should already know about their website, their Twitter feed, their YouTube channel, their Facebook wall, and a bit about their SEO. Use probing questions about each of those things to ferret out point #2.

2. Discover their problem(s)

Invariably it’s going to be “not enough sales”, “not enough leads”, or “I can’t find myself on Google” which is really the same as saying “not enough sales/leads”. Let this take you on a discussion about the sales/lead performance. If you can, discover their break even point or other numbers that let you contextualize their revenue. You have a duty to their bottom line so asking about it is a fair, if delicate, game.

There’s also a fair number of businesses who don’t think about their bottom line as much as they think about some other aspect of their business. For some, their website is an exercise in branding. For others, they really do just want some simple web changes.  Whatever the reasons are that made the meeting happen in the first place, find out what those are.

Note: People don’t always know what they want. The Internet is still an ephemeral place for a lot of people. For this reason, it’s a good idea to stick to business objectives or their kissing-cousin, business related political decisions.

Pictured: business politics

3. Find out who their stakeholders are and what those people do

Many times there are other people, not at the initial meeting, who are affected by how the website performs. You need to find out who they are, what they do, and what their needs are from the website.

Revenue will always be the #1 goal but a close second comes office politics and we cannot be successful unless everybody’s concerns are addressed and there’s institutional support for the project.  This even applies to 1-man shops.  If a guy has a business and a wife, it’s a safe bet that his wife has an opinion about the website. She’s a stakeholder, and so, what she thinks matters.  These are the people that are going to be talking about the website and who feel responsible for it in some manner, so they have to be accounted for. Find out who they are and what’s important to them.

4. Determine the Win State(s)

It’s not enough to know that a website needs to drive revenue. We also need to know how much and how soon. In my mind, an ideal win state looks like this.

“Steve needs website revenue to increase from an average of $100 a month to an average of $500 by July 31st.”

“Ann needs to provide an easier way for customers to return unwanted merchandise by December 26th.”

These Win States can be viewed as goals and objectives and should fit the SMART criteria.

Specific – Targeted to a clear and unambiguous business goal
Measurable – Answers the question “How will I know when the goal is met?”
Attainable – Can be achieved with effort
Relevant – Answers the question “Is the goal worthwhile?” “Is this what I really want?”
Time-Bound – Creates a time-frame and deadline

Essentially you need to know who needs what by when.  These are known as SMART goals.

Goal oriented.

5. Do the math and create the mission(s)

When a SMART goal is written in the format above, it’s easy to do the math.  Once you do the math, those answers can be stated as missions.  Let’s look at the above examples:

“Steve needs website revenue to increase from an average of $100 a month to an average of $500 by July 31st.”

The math:

$500 – $100 = $400
Nov. 11 – March 31 = 4.5 months

The mission: Increase the website’s average monthly revenue by $400 (or 400%) in 4.5 months.

“Ann needs to provide an easier way for customers to return unwanted merchandise by December 26th.”

The math:

Nov. 11 – Dec. 26 = 45 days

The mission: Create a measurably easier way for customers to return unwanted merchandise in the next 45 days.

Now that you know your mission, you can develop a plan to accomplish it.

6. Define the relationship

In light of these missions, discuss the kind of relationship the prospective client is expecting. Is this a one-time thing (in which case all the mission planning is unnecessary) or is this the beginning of a business relationship? Personally, I wouldn’t do anything without a minimum of a six-month commitment.  We want to make the website perform better in measurable ways.  A six-month commitment is trivial in the larger context of a never ending web presence.

Think about it. If a business currently has a website, unless the web changes fundamentally or goes away, those businesses will ALWAYS have an Internet presence from here on out.  Six-months is not a lot of time to ask for starting a relationship with a client.We want ongoing relationships with clients. It’s the only way we can be sure to effect positive change. If you start off without a sufficient length of time to be successful, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

7. Rough out a framework for success

Most projects fail when they lose momentum. Successful projects maintain a sense of energy throughout the project. When people feel energy loss, they get stressed out and it makes the whole thing less fun. Instituting a calendar for the cycle of measuring, analysis, changing, and measuring again and sticking to it is the quickest way to alleviate the problem of a project losing energy.

Next, assign roles and responsibilities to everybody involved. This includes the prospect. If he’s responsible for content (say, a blog post) – make sure he knows it and agrees to write it by a certain date. And tell him you’re going to quarterback the whole thing so if he waits until the last minute, you’re going to be on his case about it.Ultimately you’re responsible for making sure the system laid out here is implemented. That’s your role, Mr. WebGuy. You’re the quarterback – insofar as you are responsible for making sure the plan comes together.  Don’t disappoint the Colonel.

Cigars for everybody!

But, do remember that this is an initial meeting so treat this exercise at this point as a back-of-the-envelope plan. It can be broad as long as it illustrates the point. This will be done more in-depth at the next meeting. Getting the point across on how the process works is more important at this stage than getting mired in the details.

This is also the place where you can whip out all your fancy toys. Show off Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Inspectlet, Feng-GUI, Usabilla or whatever other tools you use.  These are powerful tools and they will make a strong impact on your prospect.

8. Set broad budgets

Budgets come down to time and money.  To some business owners, time is money.  It may be the first thing that is discussed because for many it is a deal breaker. In general though, the more time, the more money.

In my meeting, I’d offer an annual monthly plan that’s tailored to achieve the above missions. It’s okay to use rough numbers.  But remember, there are pricing strategies.  Use them.

The goal here is to get comfortable with a pricing window. Pricing is based on the cycle of measuring, analysis, changing, and measuring again. Each cycle is its own unit. Broadly speaking, pricing can be thought of as buying a certain number of units.

Your pricing may vary, but broadly speaking this will be true.

If $50 is the best a client can do – but they’re committed for a year, they can move the needle.  It may be a fraction of what $500/mo. could do but it’s a start. Meet them where they are.  If you have a minimum spend, that’s fine. But aim to find a solution for their problems that works for their budget. Be honest and set expectations here. If you don’t, this will bite you later on.

If the website meets or exceed the expectations you set here, you can bet that they’ll become more receptive to speeding up the process.

9. Give them the back-of-the-envelope worksheet

Not pictured: The actual worksheet

If you’ve made it smoothly all the way to budgets, you’re in the home stretch. You’ve answered the Who, What, When, Where, Why, How and for How Much by hitting all the points above. Things should be pretty clear.  Make a copy of the notes you’ve been writing while talking to the prospect and give them the original to take with them.

Two points here.

1. People like it when you’re personal. Nothing says personal like a hand-written worked over worksheet that is all about generating more revenue for their business.  That’s a valuable document to them.  They’ll be glad they have it and thus glad they met with you.

2. Give them the original. You need the copy for your notes but the original – in pen – is a nice personal touch. Make sure they have it.

10. Setup a second meeting with all of the stakeholders to agree and further develop the plan, get the okay, and to sign the contract.

I believe that asking a small business owner to commit to a plan is something they should sleep on. If they are impulsive to get into it, they will be impulsive to get out of it or to change the details of the plan.  I don’t believe in having them sign a contract at the first meeting.  It undercuts everything that’s come before it.  The whole meeting has been about clarifying their business goals and matching them to how the website functions.  Shoving a contract in their face at the end of it is a bad note to end on.

Let them take the worksheet with them.  Let them make a few phone calls and talk it over with the wife or the business partners or their drinking buddies or whoever else they talk shop with. This meeting, done properly, is going to get them thinking about their business in all kinds ways that are energizing to them.  They want this system because in short, it’s the right way to do it.

Your goal is to setup a second meeting, or at least a phone call to set a second meeting. (They may have to check with other people to find out their schedule.)  If at all possible, get all the stakeholders in the room.  The system works best when everything is obvious to all of the stakeholders.  They need to know what’s going on.  I cannot stress how important it is to get the initial communication with them right.

Get them all in the room. Explain the situation. Hash out a plan. Come to an agreement and sign.  But leave that for the second meeting.

You want to end this meeting on a strong note, but one that shows your ability to plan too. So set the next meeting, say your pleasantries and say good bye.

Follow Up

Follow up with your prospect within 24 hours. Give them another piece of information about their business or their website that’s useful. Thank them again for coming by and sitting down and ask if you can follow up with them in a few days (if you didn’t get a meeting set) or confirm the meeting.


In short, be pro-active, do your research, offer a high value proposition, and keep focused on achieving their SMART goals. It’s all somebody could ask for from a designer and it will give you a real platform to create successful web sites.

How Web Designers Can Have Better Initial Meetings With Prospective Clients

November 9, 2011 4 comments

When Newman and I started this website, we thought we were getting into the topic of web usability and usability testing. Our goal? To create a better user experience on the websites we build. As we’ve gotten into the topic of web usability, we’ve come to a deeper understanding of how websites behave with respect to business goals.

A website isn’t a one-size fits all solution. It’s not the Honda you bought to toodle around town with. It’s the NASCAR franchise you own where you can get better and win money.

What we’re drawn to again and again is the idea that a website solves a problem.

The problems websites solve are not technological in nature. They are answers, created strategically, that meet business goals. You don’t “need to send an email out” or “need to change the image on the front page because it’s getting to be Christmas”. You need to increase revenue. The only reason those other things are done is because it’s believed that doing them will achieve the fundamental business goal: more revenue!


What’s needed, more than ad hoc user testing, is a system that sets SMART goals, defines the process for achieving those goals, assigns roles and duties to all the participants and sets a time limit for success.

If you’ve spent any time at a mid-size or large business, they are masters of process. Franchised businesses are masters at it.  They’ve distilled a majority of their jobs into routinized tasks and they have ways of measuring their success. If you’ve ever seen the timer at most drive-thru windows, you know what I’m talking about.

However, most small business owners are all over the place when it comes to process.

If you’re talking to a guy who already has a website but wants to make it better – you can bet that he’s never implemented a process for growing his website. Very few people have.

Think about the mind of a small business owner. Something happened in their life, most likely while they were working, that made them say, “Screw this, I can do it better!”

Something motivated them to put themselves out there. And you can bet that they’re protective of what they’ve built. For one thing, small business owners tend to take an extreme amount of ownership over their company. This is especially true if the small business is a 1-man operation. It’s not business, it’s personal.

The business owner equates their business with their own sense of self-worth. In their mind, business success is personal success.  And, all business failure is personal failure.

What we’ve discovered as we’ve gotten into web usability is that more than anything, what’s important is assessing, changing and measuring the effects of the change. User testing is a way to assess a website. But for it to be effective, it needs to happen inside of a system.

What business owners visualize when you mention 'System'?

It’s here that we run into issues.

The word “system” scares many people, especially if it’s not one they came up with themselves. It goes against the rebel spirit of the small business owner. It means giving up a measure of control and to a lot of small business owners, implementing a system is painful to the ego. It’s as if doing it according to somebody else’s plan is admitting that you can’t do it yourself.

That’s why on the TV show Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay nearly always encounters resistance to his changes. Think about that for a minute: Here’s a TV show that’s specifically built around turning under-performing restaurants into successful restaurants. There are multiple seasons where every episode abides by the same formula. There’s no secret about what’s going to happen in these restaurants when Gordan shows up and STILL the owners can’t help but act tortured about changing the first thing about their restaurant. It’s because people would rather die than be seen as a failure. Business failure is personal failure. And the fear of failure makes even the best of us make bad decisions.

So then, implementing a system means adopting changes and that’s just not an easy pill for most business owners to swallow.

When I’m taking an initial meeting with a prospective client, it’s just about certain they want to talk about changes to their website. Turning that conversation on its head and bringing up difficult words like “system”, with its low perceived value proposition, is an easy way to make them second-guess their desire to hire me.

How I handle the meeting is crucial. It sets the tone and structure of the relationship.  Is this a one-time thing or are we going on a mission?

What I want to do in this initial meeting is to offer a course of action for both their concrete and systematic needs. Yes, if a prospective client has immediate concerns, I want to address those.  After all, keeping clients happy is one of my business goals. But more importantly we want to develop and implement a system that will generate more revenue for them over time.

In the same way that websites have critical paths, so do meetings. When I go into an initial meeting, I want to conduct it in such a way that it’s focused and has a high mutual value proposition. That’s a fancy way of saying that we both walk away feeling like we got something out of it.

One Last Thing

In the course of the initial meeting you may find yourself in a wide-ranging conversation. But there’s one very important thing to keep in mind the whole time: ultimately, they only care about what they’re getting out of it.  They’re not in it purely for a sweet website.  They’re in it because they want you to:

Show me the money.

I can’t hear you.


That’s better.

On Friday we’ll go through our version of an ideal successful initial meeting with a prospective small business client. It’s a great 10-step critical path that will lead to quicker, more mutually satisfying meetings.

Better User Experience Podcast #11: How Viral Content Aids Usability

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m back from a wild mild paddle down a surprisingly chilly Suwanee River in Florida – Rested and Ready for all things usability.

On this week’s show, Ben brings me up to speed on entropy* and we talk about the implications of viral content for web usability and SEO.

Remember you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes – new episodes each week!


Here is my first cut at the show notes:

Suwannee River Wilderness Trail

Suwannee River Wilderness Trail - Florida State Park

Suwannee River Wilderness Trail
8:45 John Perry Barlow The Economy of Ideas– “information is alive, come to Jesus moment”
18:20 – “your site is a lake” (and it should be a river)
25:00 – viral and Newman sings the Hamster Dance song –  Viral enables relationships
29:11 – Know Your Meme
32:00 – marketing / – Chrome OK-Go experience
35:30- reduce friction –
42:30- SEO and UX

* Note: “up to speed on entropy”… I see what you did there. – Ben