Ad and marketing creatives

Know Thy User. Or, Where's That Darn Phone Number!

If you have a website -- whether you're a blogger, mom-and-pop or 800-pound orangutan -- you think about "user experience." That, of course, is obvious. But ever try to find a phone number on a company's website? How many clicks did it take? Well, maybe not so obvious.

Enter a man named J F Grossen. As Senior Design Analyst at Frog Design, he creates user experiences that zing, down to that pesky office number. Maybe you've never heard of Frog but if you've ever clicked on, relaxed in a comfortable Lufthansa business class seat or crooned into a Disney karaoke microphone, you know their industry-leading designs. Right now Jay's developing an online destination for General Electric called Picture a Healthy World. We asked Jay about creating user experiences that work. You don't have to be GE to benefit from his expertise.

VT: What's the number one, most important, climb to the mountaintop piece of advice you can give anyone about their website?

Jay: Know thy user. Find out who your users are. You might get a thousand impressions a day -- or a million -- but do you know who those people are and where they're coming from? I'm not talking about statistics. Anyone can get the numbers. I'm talking about the actual people.

VT: What do you mean?

Jay: It goes back to old school market research. Why are people coming to your site? You can make intelligent assumptions. For example, say I sell sugar online. Well, jeez, I know there are probably restaurants using my site because someone's buying sugar in bulk. I can quickly identify a basic "persona."

Because this persona works at restaurants, I know buying sugar is just one of a thousand tasks in a day. When they come to my site to buy sugar in bulk what do they need to do, exactly? They probably do the same things every month. So you start to see common tasks. You start to see common traits in those users. You start to amass a kind of picture.

Create personas for all your customers. Heck, put a name to them and stick them on a wall. Call your restaurant persona "Bob." Once you identify Bob, go out and talk to a bunch of Bobs -- talk to restaurants. Who buys the sugar? How do they get the sugar? What if we did this or that to the site? Basic questions. Drill down to the things you can do better on the site to sell more sugar to these kinds of people. It's the same with every persona, with every vertical. You start very broad and very hazy and eventually you get to down to very specific stuff. Like, we better make that submit button bigger because they never hit it at checkout. You start to figure it out. It's absolutely essential to know more than just the numbers.

VT: Tell us about your latest challenge?

Jay: Picture a Healthy World is a site that's gathering thousands of photographs about living and eating healthy -- photos submitted from people around the world. Our challenge is to figure out how to categorize something as broad as "healthy living."

VT: How do you come up for a structure for something like that?

Jay: The challenge with self-published content is that it's an unbridled state -- anything's game. So we needed to understand the relationship between words to create categories. Visual Thesaurus was obviously the first place I went to. I typed in "run" and bam: I got a spread of words -- from streak to melt to rill -- that I could stick in the database. We mapped these to thousands of pictures of running. We wanted to show the sphere of all things "run," even to the edge of the relationship. So you go, oh yeah, I guess that's running, too. We created something that gave back relevant results but also new relationships -- something that says, yeah, that's an interesting way to think about it.

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