When I moved house, I found the tap handle in the downstairs loo was loose. The reason was simple, it looks like the kind you pull up to turn on but in fact it uses a more traditional twist action. Clearly more than one heavy handed person had pulled it and eventually managed to break it.
I mention this because the same is true in business. It’s unwise to go too much against customer expectations. I’ve talked before about the way in which people associate certain colours with different business sectors- reds and pinks with entertainment, black or grey with financial institutions. You’re not sure you can trust a solicitor with an office in a shopping mall. When you drive an unfamiliar car, you could get in serious trouble if the brake isn’t the middle pedal.
The layout of the keyboard is sacrosanct and phone manufacturers who have tried to make it more logical have always come a cropper. Microsoft were crazy to make their new operating system look like a touch screen when most of us are still using a mouse. Does anyone find Windows 8 as easy to use as Windows 7? I’m not the only one thinking of ditching it.
Nowhere is the need to match user expectations more important than when you design a website, which is something I do quite a lot these days. Going online is so often frustrating at the best of times that any further complication can drive you away completely. As Marks & Spencer discovered when they revamped their website.
Take two simple examples. Most search boxes are in the top right hand corner. It’s annoying to have to look around the page to find it. Most of us expect to click on the logo to get back to the Home Page so get irritated if we have to look around for a Home tab.
Here are a few more. People expect to use the back button so they get confused if the page they went to opened in a new window. We expect links we have visited to change colour. It’s annoying when we can’t tell which ones we have looked at. You expect to see the company name at the top of the page. Nielsen Norman Group have many more examples from their extensive research.
Given that people typically take seven seconds to assess an unfamiliar website before deciding to stay or leave, it’s madness not to do everything you can to make navigating your site easy.
Of course we need pioneers to break the mould. Richard Branson took decades to persuade people that a businessman without a tie could be trustworthy. Dyson made us rethink what constituted a vacuum cleaner. If you offer an improvement, that’s one thing but change for its own sake or simply to show off is quite another. That’s the case whether you’re designing a website, a car or a tap.
A version of this article appeared previously on the Southern Daily Echo website.