Face to (Inter) Face

“Sure, sounds like that would be a book I’d like to buy, too. Thanks.”

I just finished up nine intensive graduate credit hours in the study of User Experience, Interface, and Interaction Design. It is hard to recap all the nitty gritty details of my learnings–all the new vocabulary I learned, cool tools I’ve played with, and code I now understand how to use, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share one of the most valuable lessons I learned. It is one anybody can use to evaluate any website. All you need to do is take a giant step back and look at it from a different angle.

I’m used to doing all the typical web designer things. Interviewing users. Making personas. Working to understand my audience. Building a content strategy. Testing prototypes. All of these are foundational tools in web design. And, trust me, they are still important.

So what else is there to do? What I’ve recently learned is the art of looking at your website from a human point-of-view. I know this is scary…especially if you’ve seen all those creepy movies where people fall in love with their computers…but trust me on this. What I’m about to reveal will change the way you look at your website…forever.

Here it is: Treat your interface like a conversation.

Pretty simple advice. But what does it mean? It means to actually write down the conversation you would have with a REAL human being if you were to deliver the same information on your website, but in person. How would you say it? What would you want them to do or how would you like them to respond? You’ll be surprised what you discover. For example, depending on your audience, you might choose to change the words on typical action buttons that say “Go” (boring and not something you would ever say) to “Let’s Play” (something you might actually say).

Here are some pieces of advice for your future interface conversations.

  • Be considerate. Don’t go too fast in your conversation or go too slow. Make sure to explain what needs to be explained and don’t get too wordy when it isn’t needed (just like a real conversation).
  • Be brave. If 90% of your users want to take the conversation down a certain path, don’t make them listen to the “extra” information that is only needed by the other10%. Design for the majority and provide a path for further conversation for everyone else. No one likes the guy at the party that doesn’t know when to stop talking.
  • Make a good Impression. Just like good eye contact and a well-pressed shirt are important when making a face-to-face impression, so is the visual appeal of your website. Much is said nonverbally in human conversations. The same is true for websites.
  • Don’t speak a foreign language. It isn’t nice to use vocabulary (visual or written) that your user doesn’t understand or use regularly. You wouldn’t do that in person, now would you? And when using icons for ideas, use idioms, not metaphors. Digital natives don’t have a clue what a file folder is. That may have been a nice metaphor for those of us who lived with file drawers, but it doesn’t make any sense to the NextGen.
  • Fun matters. My favorite conversations are when I spend at least a  bit of it sharing a smile or a laugh. Not all interfaces are suited for comedy…that’s not what I mean. But every interface can be enjoyable to use, whether it is a slick way a transition is made, use of a friendly tone, or a conversational label on a button..happiness makes a difference.

To my fellow website enthusiasts…give it a try. Look at your site differently. Try writing the conversation out first and see how it changes or leads the design. Then get ready to sit down with a nice cup of coffee and enjoy the chat with your computer.