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Boring Is Beautiful

  |  April 5, 2001   |  Comments

Consumers want simplicity, speed, and convenience. They come to your site to find information. Make life easy for them, and they'll thank you with their business.

Boring is beautiful on the Internet because the Internet is a very functional place. Because of low bandwidth and time pressure, it works best when it is designed using a "bare bones" approach rather than a "bells and whistles" approach.

Keep It Simple

Quality Internet design should be about functionality and simplicity. It should be all about helping the reader carry out a task in the simplest, fastest possible manner. If keeping it simple and fast means that the Web page doesn't look that graphically appealing, then so be it. If keeping it simple and fast means using standard rather than cutting-edge technology, then so be it.

The reader (consumer) wants simplicity. The reader wants speed. The reader wants convenience. The reader comes to your Web site to find out something. Having done that, he or she may want to carry out an action (purchase). Make life easy for them. They will thank you with their business.

Keep It Functional

A great many Web sites are making life hard for the reader. Consider the following:

  • A 2000 worldwide Ernst & Young online consumer study found that three out of four respondents had started but didn't complete an online purchase in the past year. The study stated that "many consumers complained bitterly about long waits, clunky screens, complicated processes, missing or hard-to-find information, nonexistent telephone support, impossible return processes." A key conclusion of the study was that the online experience "is decidedly not about entertainment, which didn't even make the top-15 list of consumer preferences."

  • Four out of five consumers in a 2000 A.T. Kearney study abandoned attempts to purchase products online due to poor Web site design and functionality. More than half (52 percent) of those surveyed said that being asked for too much information was their primary reason for failing to complete a purchase online. In addition, 40 percent abandoned their shopping carts due to Web site malfunctions. Abandoned shopping carts are estimated to cost e-tailers $3.8 billion in lost sales.

  • Almost half of all consumers trying to purchase online during the Christmas 2000 period left Web sites without placing an order, according to a Creative Good report. Reasons for abandoning the purchasing process included slow-loading pages and difficulty in finding products.

  • "While online retailers offer a variety of site features, most of these features (the bells and whistles), with the exception of search capabilities and close-up product views, are never used by the majority of online shoppers," according to a 2000 study from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Follow America Online

The boring are inheriting the Internet, with America Online being a case in point. Wired magazine reluctantly described America Online as "unsexy and unstoppable." According to a Business Week article in March 2001, "At every turn in the emergence of the Internet, America Online has been an object of scorn. Silicon Valley geeks sneered at its cheery user-friendliness and derisively dubbed it 'America on training wheels.'"

America Online has always understood the need to keep it simple. It is the master of understanding its customers and using the Internet for what it can do today, not what we all would like it to be able to do. Boring is beautiful as long as it drives the bottom line. Just ask America Online.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gerry McGovern Gerry McGovern is a Web consultant and author. His most recent books are Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide, published by Financial Times Prentice Hall.

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