a blog 

about content and ux

UX lessons from the Paris Metro

Paris is so beautiful, it takes my breath away. There’s one overlooked beauty that no one ever talks about: the Paris Metro.

The beauty of the Paris Metro is the clarity of its wayfinding system. In two minutes, you can master this system – even if you don’t speak French. Now, that’s what I call intuitive. With 16 lines and 303 stations, the system is huge. Despite its size, it’s easy to find your way.

Each line has two names associated with it – each name represents the last stop on the route. On my last visit, I started and ended every day on Line 11 (Châtelet and Mairie des Lilas). The Châtelet station is in the heart of the city, the Mairie des Lilas station is the final stop, just outside Paris.

The signage is so clear and helpful that you never feel lost even when transferring to other lines. If you have to wait, there is sign telling you when the next train will arrive. The wait was usually less than two minutes.

Takeaway – Finding your way in a new place can be stressful. If you’re creating an app or website, make your navigation intuitive so first time users get it. This takes the stress away and sets the tone for a great user experience.


Like this post?  Share it. Written by Don Seidenberg.

Do you really need the hamburger menu?

By now, you have seen those three horizontal lines lurking in the upper right-hand corner of many websites. Since it looks like a burger, many people call it the hamburger menu.

The hamburger menu is a visual cue. Click or tap it and the navigation appears. Designers like it because it’s visually appealing. Developers like it because it allows them to add more features.

In practice, it’s an obstacle that slows down the customer journey and adds friction to your website.

Let’s take a step back and think why the navigation menu exists at all. It helps visitors find what they’re looking for on your website. Like signage on a highway, it helps them get to their destination.

Clicking or tapping the hamburger menu takes visitors to another page to make a choice. For every page they want to visit, they must return to the hamburger menu and repeat this process.

First-time visitors come to your site looking for something and you’re adding a step to their process. In a world of fleeting attention spans, you’re forcing them to waste their precious time.

While the hamburger menu is unavoidable for cell phones, it’s not for laptops and tablets. Unless you have a compelling reason, don’t do it.


Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

Your website is not about you

Dear Marketing Manager,

I am sorry to burst your bubble but your website is not about you. In fact it never was. Your website is about your visitors and the journeys they make within your site.

Your visitors couldn’t care less care about your latest technology. For the last 20 years, they have been hearing about the wonders of every whizz bang technology that came down the pike. And quite frankly they’re tired of it.

Here’s the good part so listen carefully. Although visitors are not interested in your technology, they are very interested in benefits. They like products that help them do something better, quicker and more efficiently.

So don’t sell them cool features and whizz bang technology when what they’re buying are plain and simple benefits.

Make a bridge to their world. Understand who they are and what motivates them. Don’t talk at them, talk to them. Show how your product fits in their life.  And how it helps them do something better, quicker or more efficiently.

Your users are on a journey in your website. It’s up to you to make sure they reach their destination with a smile.


Don Seidenberg

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

Two kings and the importance of clarity

In my adopted country of the Netherlands, everyone is focused on the crowning of the first king in over 100 years.  As a web professional, I am focused on another king: content.

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, the soon to be king, was recently interviewed by journalists.  He spoke clearly with a solid understanding of the issues affecting the Dutch people.  When asked what type of king he would be, he stressed the importance of being yourself.

Inspired by this interview, here are some ideas on how to make your content king.

  • Be yourself – Don’t be afraid to stand out in a crowd. Let people know who you are, what makes you special and why doing business with you is a royal delight.
  • Understand issues of importance Know your audience, show that you understand the issues that are important to them.
  • Define key messages — What message must every web visitor need to understand?  What other messages, do you need to communicate?  If your site has more than one audience, define the key messages for each audience.
  • Avoid clichés — Clichés are ideas that are so overused that they lack meaning. Using clichés show a lack of creativity and weakness.
  • Start a conversation – Willem-Alexander wants to encourage conversation. He doesn’t want people to call him majesty because it hinders contact. Make sure your content encourages conversation and contact.

Above all, remember clarity is your number one usability principle.  It always improves your content. If you’re pro-monarchy, long live the king! And if you’re pro-website, long live your content!

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

Treat your web visitors like guests

If you are looking to engage your audience, don’t treat them like customers treat them like guests. Welcome them with open arms, make them feel special.

Special. That’s exactly how I felt at the Citizen M Hotel in London. The lobby was a cozy living room full of comforts. A fireplace. Big comfortable chairs. Books on art, fashion, design and architecture.  Free wifi.  A pleasant and helpful staff. The list goes on.

Every room has a king size bed, great shower and a tablet. The tablet is also a remote. Adjust the lighting, set the alarm, watch movies, listen to the radio, surf the internet. Everything at your fingertips. Turn on a movie and the window shades close to prevent reflection from the sun.

Citizen M feels like a friend with fun personality. Instead of standard hotel stationary, there was a small pad in my room with the message: “great fiction, works of art or rude poems – they all start here.” Enter the elevator and you will see a whimsical video of people sitting around the table. Every ride it’s a different group of people. Just enough to make you smile.

Citizen M is more than a place to sleep.  It is a place to feel special. Like any good host, Citizen M set out to create a great experience for their guests. In the process, they redefined the hotel experience.

Takeaway    Every square meter at Citizen M was designed for guests to feel great. On your next web project, you can design a wonderful user experience for your guests. It requires attention to detail and a total focus on others.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

You can’t buy web content by the kilo

web content quality over quantity

I love the excitement of Amsterdam’s open air markets. Fruits – vegetables – chicken – fish.  Like so many commodities, you can buy anything by the kilo ……… anything but web content.

Therein lies the challenge for large corporations – everywhere. Too many companies still treat web content as a commodity you can buy in bulk. To them, web content is an afterthought. It’s something you do at the end of a long web development process.

Too often, I hear “we are going live in four weeks, we need 100 pages written, how much?” This commodity thinking may help you meet a deadline but it won’t result in good content. Good content is not about producing web pages in quantity. It’s about creating and fine tuning content that engages your audience.  And that takes time.

So the next time you re-launch your corporate site, surprise your copywriters. Call them in at the beginning of the process. If you don’t already have a content strategy, let your writers create one. Make sure it’s clear what you are trying to achieve and who you are trying to reach. Then create a plan and an internal process to make it all happen.

Takeway – Good web content can be a strategic asset, which engages your audience and builds your brand.  However, if you treat web content like a commodity … you will get what you pay for.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

Develop websites like a master sushi chef

Creating a great website requires a single minded focus on customers and a passion to improve the user experience. It’s very much like creating the ultimate sushi – just ask Jiro Ono, a master sushi chef.

His restaurant is quite modest,  just ten stools situated in a Tokyo subway station. Jiro has been making sushi for over 70 years. Although he is the first sushi chef to receive three Michelin stars, he still strives to perfect his craft – always looking to improve taste and the customer experience.

His secret recipe: combine the best ingredients with the right processes. Jiro selects suppliers with great care. He has separate suppliers for different types of fish.  He prefers experts who, like himself, strive to improve product quality. His workers spend years learning how to dry, cut and prepare a fish. Before octopus is served, it is massaged 50 minutes to give it a tender taste.

To give your website a tender taste, take Jiro’s advice.  Work only with experts, who are dedicated to improving their services.  Select the very best pros in interaction design, usability, programming, content strategy and copywriting. Make sure everyone is a skilled problem solver, who can work in a team towards a common goal.

Be critical and improve your internal processes.  Put content at the heart of your web development process.  Hire a content strategist at the beginning of the project to align your business goals with content. Do a content audit – know what content you already have and what content you still need.

Step into your customers’ shoes.  Understand your company from their perspective. Once you understand their needs, find good writers and provide them a proper briefing.  Give them a clear who, what, why and how. Then let them do their magic to engage your customers.

Takeaway  – Like I learned from Jiro, never stop improving your craft. Combine the best ingredients with right processes. Users will be happy and your website will taste great.  If you want to be inspired, watch the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

A web writer is different than a copywriter

difference web writer copywriter

It’s 2013, we all live in Web World.  We are light years away from Don Draper and Peggy Olson. Peggy was a copywriter in Mad Men. Her talent: seduce the 1960’s housewife to buy products wrapped in dreams. She wrote copy to persuade, hence the term copywriter.

In Web World, writing is more complicated.  Sometimes we write to inform, sometimes to persuade. Unlike Peggy we don’t have one audience, we have several: customers, suppliers, job seekers and sometimes venture capitalists. And the stories we tell on websites are often non-linear.

A web writer’s assignments are more varied than ads and sales collaterals. They can include: write home page copy, create internal links, describe a sales process, write instructions, tell a story in a tweet, engage customers on a Facebook page. The list goes on.

Don Draper and Peggy Olson weren’t focused on user experience. But in Web World, it’s the only thing that matters. Web writers can contribute by enhancing the readability of their work.

You can enhance readability by making your text clear and easy to scan.  Write headlines so readers know what to expect.  Make your content relevant with ample white space around the text so your message gets noticed and read.  All this makes for a more pleasant read.

As Web World marches into the future, the role of the web writer will continue to evolve.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.


Six lessons from barackobama.com

Barack Obama is the first web savvy president.  As he seeks re-election, he is using his online presence and social media to engage US voters and drive traffic to his site.  Here are six lessons you can learn from his website.

1 – Look and feel – The visual appeal of the home page sets a positive tone.  For me, his home page is a like a firm handshake.  It communicates personality, emotion and a sense of determination.  And it also makes me feel welcome.

2 – Messaging — Clear messaging is the heart of any website.  Obama’s concern for people and their well-being is one of his key messages.  You read it in his program.  And you feel it when everyday Americans tell their personal stories.

3 – Storytelling – Storytelling is a great way to inform and persuade.  My favorite is about Margaret, an elderly African American woman, who tells why voting is so important to her.  There is even a page where people can add their own stories.

4 – Visual hierarchy – A visual hierarchy guides a reader through the page and makes sure the most important things get seen first.  Each page is designed so readers can quickly find and comprehend information.  No hesitation – just a smooth ride.

5 – Visuals – Good visuals can tell a story or reinforce a message. Here’s a visual that addresses unemployment.  Looking at the visual, you can quickly grasp the idea that the economy is improving.

6 – Navigation –   A good navigation makes it easy find what you are looking for.  The main navigation has three choices: Get the facts, Get the latest or Get Involved.  Click any of these and again you have three choices. While there is a lot of information, everything is clearly organized.  You never feel lost.

If you are looking to improve your web skills, study this website carefully.  Its storytelling, copywriting, information architecture and interaction design are second to none.  Don’t wait too long, this site will most likely be removed after the election.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

Do the Steve Krug home page test

A good home page sets the tone for your site.  That’s why your home page needs to be clear. It lets people know who you are and what you can do for them.

Not everyone enters on the home page, but many still do. When first time visitors come to your home page, will they understand what it’s about?  According to usability expert Steve Krug, “more often than you’d expect, the answer is a surprising and revealing no.”

Test your home page according to Steve Krug’s script.

  • Invite a few people to look at your homepage.
  • Ask them to briefly describe the site and what they make of it.
  • Specifically:  What strikes you about the site? What can you do here? What it’s for?

Although a few people is not a scientific sample, you can gain insights that improve your site’s usability.  I did when I tested my website: wordsandideas.nl.

After testing my home page on three people, I tested my work page.  They understood my home page, but two of them didn’t realize that the thumbnails on my work page were writing samples that should be clicked.  To solve this, I placed “see work” with an arrow in the first thumbnail.

If you are interested in testing your home page or your whole site, pick up Steve Krug’s latest book Rocket Surgery Made Easy.  In his personable way, he outlines a do it yourself approach for finding and fixing usability mistakes.

Like his other book, Don’t Make Me Think, it’s a learning experience that makes you smile.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

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