I've been building websites and designing apps since the days of ear piercing modem dial tones and communicating with friends on ICQ (who remembers?). In the 20 years I've been doing this, I've witnessed an increasing commoditisation of design on the web.
As little as 5-6 years ago, if you wanted a website – you hired a web designer to create a bespoke website for your business. Now you can purchase a theme for a few dollars or get one for free.
For businesses who require a website or companies developing digital products – like mobile and web apps – investing in quality design seems to be falling lower and lower down the priority list.
It's easy to see the reasons behind this – why pay a premium price for a website when you can get one for free? Why invest in product design when the money would be better spent on marketing to new customers?
In this article I wan't to highlight some of the problems with each of these approaches and explain why cutting corners with design can have a severely detrimental impact on the bottom line of your business.
The Case for Quality Product Design
In 2017, almost everyone has an idea for an app, and how difficult can it really be to launch one? While the barrier to entry for getting an app into the app store is quite low, launching a successful app is a complex and difficult process with the chances of success being relatively low.
I see lots of businesses focused on building innovative apps packed full of features, supported with creative marketing campaigns to drive new customers, but they don't seem to value the role of design as highly as they do development or marketing.
Here's the thing, marketing and development are more or less invisible processes to your customers. The primary touch point between your customers and your product is DESIGN. If you can't nail a design that solves your customers' problems, then everything else is going to suffer.
Let's look at the numbers.
For a start, 6% of apps submitted to Apple's App Store are rejected for violation of Guideline 10.6, in other words – their user interface isn't up to the required standard.
Even if you do manage to get your app into the store, in 2016, Localytics reported that 23% of installed apps are never used and 23% are abandoned after first use.
That's only 54% of apps that will be used more than once, and only 38% of users return more than 11 times.
Not exactly encouraging.
So, what can you do about it? Well, if you've been successful in creating a product that users actually want and that solves a real need, you'll be successful in getting past the 23% of apps that are never used, but if you want to fall into the 38% bracket with the higher retention rate, then you need to ensure that the likelihood of a user abandoning your product is as low as possible.
Why Do Users Abandon Products?
- Your product fails to immediately communicate and deliver on the promised value users expected
- Your product is too complicated to use or requires to much investment to get set up
- It's buggy
These are all problems that you can solve and the solution isn't spending more money on your marketing campaign to acquire more users. Throwing up to 62% of your marketing budget down the toilet isn't a good business model.
The solution lies in analysing user behaviour, figuring out why they abandon and then designing a better solution.
Using good product design to acquire and keep customers with a lower marketing budget is much more effective than spending more money to acquire more users and losing half of them.
How Can You Design Better Products?
Broadly speaking, you need to design a product that is seamless, intuitive and easy-to-use while helping users to achieve goals. This comes with a strategic blend of user interface design, user experience, psychology and metrics.
The mistaken belief of many is that a pretty interface equates to a usable and intuitive product, but this couldn't be further from the truth. While designing a product that looks good is important, it's more important to perform on-going user analysis and ensure your product is designed to help users achieve their goals with the least amount of resistence as possible.
When I work with a new client, the first thing I do is implement behaviour tracking tools into their product and start talking to their users. Until you fully understand the problems from your users' perspective, there is little point in creating a solution. You might think you understand their problems, but in reality you're probably not even close.
If users are abandoning your product, then you have to speak to them directly and ask why.
It's a complex and never-ending process executed by an experienced digital product designer who understands user psychology, software business models, behaviour metrics and the intricacies of product design.
The bad news is that this doesn't come cheap. There is no low-cost, off-the-shelf solution; and design is an ongoing process too. You can’t just design a product, launch it and then leave it. I've been building my primary business – Get Invited for 5 years, and it looks nothing like it did 5 years ago. We're constantly iterating over time based on changes in the market and customer needs.
Hiring a good designer will be expensive but if you're losing customers and money through a badly designed product, then this is going to be an investment that saves you money in the long run and leads to increased profits.
The Problem with Off The Shelf Website Themes
Another common trend is opting for free or low-cost template websites, bypassing the need to hire a designer.
This can be a good option for those who just want a simple, quick website with some basic information but if you're running a business, software company or e-commerce website, this is not the best solution.
If you want to optimise your bottom line, you need to be constantly tracking and analysing user behaviour and making small, incremental design changes over time to remove obstacles and enable them to effectively achieve their goals.
For example: if you're using a generic off-the-shelf shopping cart theme, you're trusting someone you've never met, who knows nothing about your business to create a solution that helps your customers achieve their goals.
Don't think it really matters that much? The average shopping cart abandonment rate is 69% and many of the reasons for abandonment are because of poor cart design.
I'll say that again – 69% of your customers may be abandoning a purchase on your website because your shopping cart is badly designed.
All the money and effort you're investing to drive customers to your website – almost 70% of it may be going down the drain.
Can a Badly Designed Checkout Cost You $12million?
When Expedia removed the "Company Name" field from their checkout form, they increased profits by $12 million.
Expedia analysed their users' behaviour and realised that they were getting confused when they saw the "Company Name" field. It turned out that users thought they should put in their bank's name and this subsequently lead them to put in their bank's address into the billing fields. This lead to failed transactions and cart abandonments that cost Expedia $12m a year.
If you're not analysing your customers behaviour, finding problems quickly and designing improvements, then you could be losing business.
A decreasing bottom line isn't just a problem for big companies operating at scale. KISSMetrics discovered that a 1 second delay on an eCommerce website can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
For an eCommerce site selling $1000 of products per day, a 7% loss is equates to $25,550 in lost revenue per year. For a one second delay!
Performance problems and delays are especially problematic with off-the-shelf themes. These themes are designed to be customisable and as a result, they contain a lot of unnecessary, bloated code which increases the page weight and affects the load time.
Performance is usually an afterthought for most businesses, but in a recent article by Ethan Marcotte (the guy who invented responsive web design) he audited the performance of a range of free themes and discovered that they took anywhere from 45-90 seconds to load on a 3G connection.
That may not sound like a long time, but when we consider that 80% of mobile users will abandon a website if it doesn't load in the first 20 seconds. Can you really afford to lose 80% of potential visitors to your website before your site even loads?
Saving a fixed cost of a few thousand dollars on a bespoke website but losing 80% of potential users doesn't sound like good business sense to me.
When Google tested the difference between showing 10 and 30 search results on a page, they noticed a 20% drop in clicks on the page with 30 results shown. The difference in load time between the two pages was just half a second!
You can test the speed of your website for free using Webpage Test. Try it and compare it to the numbers above.
While it can be tempting to cut corners on design and save money (designers are highly skilled professionals that don't come cheap after all), the numbers show that it's not always worth the savings if your business is going to suffer from long-term recurring losses.
Free themes and templates are fine for certain uses cases but if your website or product is the core of your business, then it makes sense to invest in creating the most efficient and optimised user interface as possible.