Part one of a five part guest posts series,”Unleashing Crowd Power”, by Michal Hudecek.
The Power of Metaphor
User experience is being given a lot of attention recently, especially in consumer product industry. Saul has covered a lot of similar topics on this blog including gamification or community building. Being able to successfully interact with the crowd via technology has become a Holy Grail of designers world-wide. The whole scientific field of user experience design has evolved. However, its real adoption in online world is very low. Most of the web sites are still confusing and unaesthetic. Why is that? Why is it that web designers do not work with the crowd systematically?
The reason is the complexity of the science behind it. Ironically enough, simplicity is what user experience design strives for. As Robert Stetson Shaw said, “You don’t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it.” And a metaphor is what user experience design lacks. A metaphor that is able to explain the logic to all participating parties including web designers, coders and clients while following the scientific methods. Web directing, as an analogy to film directing, might fill this gap. Static websites are just first phase of engaging with the audience. Thinking like a web director will become even more important when building a crowdsourcing project where the level of interaction is much higher. But first things first.
From Film Directing to Web Directing
Film industry has developed its own methodology of communicating and engaging with the audience over the last hundred years. Film directors know exactly when and what should people think and feel at any given time. They study universities to learn how to do it using screenplays, storyboards or beats.
Define first what the audience should think and feel
Imagine you would be making a film instead of a web site. You would be thinking about when should people laugh or be scared. You would know what genre the movie is and what people expect from it. You would plan what should they tell to their friends afterwards. And you should do the same when creating a web site. Web directing framework provides a standardized set of tools for doing so. It prevents the developers from skipping into graphic details too early before thinking about the visitors properly.
The first step is writing a web screenplay, which describes a thought process of an average visitor. It is basically a flow chart of questions a user has since the very beginning of the experience with the site. These questions are the reason why the visitor stays curious and does not leave. You should make sure they are interesting enough. Professional web director can help you to evaluate that. Above everything, he is a master storyteller. In case of various user groups visiting the site, more web screenplays might be needed.
Having set attention drawing questions, the next step is defining appealing answers to each of them. Via these answers you are actually telling your story and calling your visitors to an action. The tool for going through this particular stage is called reactions chart. It connects each question with a desired reaction and on-page trigger, which is a visual mean of communication causing the requested reactions. When thinking about an on-page triggers, try to avoid text as much as possible. Anything that can be visualized should be visualized. For example, is your site about home-appliances? Make sure there are actually photos of them on the homepage. It will be the first thing people will look at while trying to figure out what your site is about. Please note that no graphic design has been made at this stage yet. It is still abstract brainstorming which allows you to think out of the box and combine on-page-triggers together to keep the site as simple as possible.
The last phase is finally the one with a graphic output. The role of the graphic designer is now narrowed to a creative expression of on-page triggers defined in the Reactions chart before. Each object on the page should be associated with the question and the desired reaction to make future user testing easier to evaluate. This ensures there are no meaningless or illogical elements on the page which results in clutter-less and straight-forward design that is simple to use for the visitors. If performed professionally, it drives the eye-balls of the visitor as the web director planned. However, visual concept might be subject to change during user testing in contrast to web screenplay, which should be stable. In other words, the form of communication might change as you learn more about your visitors’ behavior, but the content of your message should stay the same. Anytime you find out your visitors do not understand you or do not react as desired, take a look at the Reactions chart, find the specific on-page trigger-connected to that reaction and try to improve upon this.