Trial and Error Even in the Big Leagues: This is How We Learn

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Note that my friend “Accident Andy” here is smiling.  Sure, he has a couple of cuts and a splint but he’s smiling because he’s proud of his of trial and error.  Andy sits on my desk and encourages me as I develop the site for my budding small business(es).  I put Andy on my desk after listening to Jeff Julian interview Nicole Smith on Getting Scrappy at Dell.

Nicole Smith blew my mind when she told me that there were only eight people on the team that launched Tech Page One at Dell.  Incidentally, I have spent some time on Tech Page One and it is truly a wealth of information from education to entrepreneurship and, obviously, tech.  Here I sit, day after day, developing sites for various purposes, beating myself up, thinking (at times) that I have no idea what I am doing and then I hear Nicole tell me that she and the team developed Tech Page One on WordPress!  Holy cow!  They did so because they could test more effectively in that environment and essentially earned their way to success (and budget) through trial and error when they developed the highly customer-focused Tech Page One.

That was my other big takeaway from listening to Nicole–always be customer-focused.  I need Accident Andy on my desk (no reference to super-dude Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media here, I just like alliteration) to “feel heartened,” as Nicole Smith puts it, regarding my trials, tribulations and errors.  

More importantly, Accident Andy helps me to remember to focus on the customer and not my ego.  I liken the problem of being overly focused on my own business objectives and not putting the customer first to a server, who upon coming to the table to take the order, turns sideways and asks the customer, “Does my butt look big?” rather than taking their order.  A silly analogy sure, but I think it makes clear how easy it is to get myopic when developing a site and site content.

For example, I am getting really hung up on UI patterns.  My knee-jerk response is to develop something unique and user-friendly all at the same time.  I am beginning to see that really isn’t realistic for someone at my skill level (which is quite honestly, a tetch lower than basic).  Heck, the reason that certain UI patterns have become so commonly used is that they are user-friendly.  It is here that I have an opportunity to stop thinking about how special and unique I think my business is and start thinking about the customer and how they will be able to find what they need as quickly as possible.  It is likely that customer really doesn’t even think about the UI pattern at all.  What the customer does think about is getting the information they need and/or the product they want as quickly as possible.  As Jerry Cao puts it, “…we’ve changed the way we consume the web, which has resulted in a lot of common UI design patterns. Design patterns have matured and as such, there’s little in the way of innovation when it comes to UI patterns…There’s no real reason to reinvent the wheel. UI patterns must guide users through a smooth experience.”

Clearly, the time I devote to trial and error should not be wasted on UI patterns that others have determined work and work well, but what type of design is going to best feature my business and enable customers to navigate quickly and easily.  The other thing Accident Andy reminds me to think about is the path to purchase (for retail sites) and the path to donations (for non-profits) because if there are too many clicks or (ugh) dead ends that take the user in a loop, they’re going to leave.  Jerry Cao provides a great overview of 6 Web Design Trends and I used his article to spur some additional thinking on micro-interactions and what the best, most customer-focused micro-interaction will look like on my site.

Micro-interactions open up a world of questions from, “When should there be a pop-up to sign up for the newsletter?” to “What is the best language to use when allowing a customer to opt-out?”  Thanks to Google Analytics  the the genius of Nicole Smith’s advice, I get to try, test, determine error, and try again.  And silly me if I get too complacent and think that I can do that only once a year!  Website improvements need to be ongoing so as to effectively keep up with the demands and expectations of our customers and how lucky we are to have that kind of instantaneous feedback as well as the ability to make adjustments and changes based on our customer’s needs.

Here’s the thing: I certainly haven’t figured it all out yet.  My site is far from perfect right now.  But like one of my friends in Web Development once told me. “That’s what the undo button is for.  There’s nothing you can’t undo.”

 

 

 

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