<   Back to Writing

Make the unclear, clear

“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein

An important part of my role as a user experience planner at an agency is as a scope synthesizer.  The team piles on the goals, the concepts, the wanted and needed features and functions, the core messages, the consumer insights, the budget, the timing, the skill level of the development team, the bent of the creative team, the concerns of the client team – and voila!  I create a set of documents making the unclear, clear.

But for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on looking at this same principle as it applies outwardly to how marketers affect how consumers perceive branded interactions.

Here are some collected principles to assure branded experiences are trim and navigable:

Archive is a dirty word in marketing.

Each of the brands I work for will generate a heap of new web bits/bobs/apps in the next 12 months, so what we do with what we had in the last 12 months?  Do consumers care to go back and see what your brand was doing in 2009?  What about 2006?

These are great questions, ones that don’t get asked often enough.  So I want to talk about the concept of having an archive on a marketing site – since this is a default solution I see used all to often.  I want to start to push us to move past this model, because in my humble opinion:

  • Decisions about content aren’t made if there is just a holding tank to catch it after 6 months of being up, next thing you know you have something akin to a digital grave yard of where your brand has been.  Not sexy, and not on brand.
  • Archive means nothing to a consumer other than “Not relevant, and old” – so if the content is worth keeping up, it belongs in its own location, placed relative to like content and features.

Ultimately we want to avoid the clutter from past years’ campaigns getting in the way of clarity of this years.’  But we also want to create content that is so awesome that people may want to actually access it again.  The word “archive” gets in the way of both those goals.

Don’t show off your corporate underpants.

I see this all the time, and it comes in two distinct flavors:

1)   Content and/or functionality that obviously has nothing to do with the consumer viewpoint, but instead was just placed there to appease some stakeholder, or some team somewhere.

2)   Navigation that is dictated by the organization chart of the business teams working on the brand instead of by the logic by which a consumer would navigate the information.

Both of these will cloud the decision paths of consumers, adding to the paradox of choice, getting them nowhere, and subsequently getting you no further.  A clear cut lose, lose situation.

Aim to increase expected value as the user approaches action.

The idea of expected value is that when faced with a number of paths to follow, user’s will identify all possible paths to take; determine the value of each as well as the probability that each will take them closer to their goal.  In order to increase the expected value of your content and functionality:

  • Don’t get cute with links and actions: be clear and concise.  Leave the adorable and witty for headlines, body copy and captions.  Making cute copy clickable is like painting a door to look like a brick wall.
  • Don’t be afraid of the big red button: Users are looking for clear paths.  The bolder you make the entrance, the more likely it is they will consider it before other paths.  There is no shame in dedicating more visual attention to the action you want people to take.
  • When everything is loud, nothing is loud: There is nothing more terrifying than arriving at a page where absolutely everything is at the same level of prominence.  Make sure you give priority levels to every piece of content and function on every page.  I see this done well on home pages generally but it can tend to fall off as you deepen into the sitemap, where often everything goes flat from a priority standpoint.

Read your copy. And like it.

Stop treating your copy like a field of blah blah blah that sits between the headlines.  It should be argued over!  It should be fought for!  And it should be well written, god dammit!

Contrary to popular belief that users don’t read: if your users are truly engaged with the idea of your content, they are reading it – and likely making fun of it in some cases.

  • Make sure your copy reads like your brand feels: Don’t be stodgy if you are supposed to be irreverent.  Don’t be trendy if you are supposed to be authentic.  Your users will smell it if you are pretending to be something you aren’t.
  • Pay attention to grade level: Most brands have demographics that deserve not going above about 9th grade reading level.  In short, use short sentences and avoid SAT words.
  • Don’t let copy go stale: If a promotion has closed and you are still talking about it as not having happened yet, then you are doing it wrong.  Pay attention to the tense of your copy and think about how it will read in 6 months.
  • Don’t ignore actions, links and errors: While we want actions and links to be clear and concise, we don’t want them to be totally devoid of brand personality.  Another common pit fall I see is having overly technical, developer written error messages, which really can break the flow of an experience.  Keep in mind that errors are generally returned at points where users are the most engaged, so paying special attention to them in copy development is crucial.

Cross sell, and not just your products.

The nature of branded interactions tends to fall closer to the entertainment/time-wasting realm.  Because of that, users are often looking for that next step to keep them engaged. Make sure you are always enticing that next click.

In order to do that successfully, I find that cross selling is a common technique in marketing that can be applied easily to how we entice further engagement.

Here are a few scenarios I see again and again as opportunities to cross sell features, and content.

  • Make their life easier with action: Trigger marketing of features if users are taking an action that would be simplified by another action.  For example:  If you signup for the mailing list, you can get this article delivered right now to your mobile phone.
  • End-cap a prior action: Provide next steps if users are completing an action. Confirmation pages are excellent places to entice further engagement. For example: Now that you have registered for the Gallery, how about uploading your first image.
  • Whet their appetite: Preview functionality that would be available should they complete a given action.  For example:  show them a preview of the area that they would have access to should they decide to complete the registration.

Thanks for reading.

This post is the 4th of a series: UX Rules for Advertising Agencies.