Author Archives: Gerry McGovern

Design for navigational momentum and unity

Design navigation for forward momentum. The core purpose of navigation is to help you move forward. Designing digital navigation is not that different from designing navigation for a road. You always want to be able to help people maintain their momentum and get to their destination as quickly as possible. The essence of momentum is to help people move forward, and this is the essential purpose of navigation—to help people move forward.

Yes, there may be some navigation to help people move backwards (do a U-turn) but that should be minimized. Always assume that the page that person is on is the page they want to be on. How do they move forward from this page so as to get to their final destination (assuming that the page they are on is not, in fact, their final destination).

So, for example, when you choose “musical instruments” on the Amazon website, the vast majority of the navigation becomes focused on helping you choose a musical instrument.
• The search is filtered to musical instruments
• Most of the horizontal navigation is about musical instruments
• All the left side navigation is about musical instruments
• All other products and services have been squeezed into a single link: Shop by Department

Navigation should help people maintain forward momentum. Focus on the task. Trust people that they are where they want to be. If they’ve made a mistake they can use search or hit the Back button. The job of navigation is to get them to the end of their journey as quickly as possible.

Navigation should be as unified as possible—kept together in the same physical space. There’s nothing worse than having pieces of navigation put all over the place without any real logic as to why. Of course, it may make sense to separate certain types of navigation (login, my account, etc.), but the core navigation—particularly about the products and services—should be as unified as possible.

Disparate, disunified navigation is a common mistake, particularly on older websites. Why? The website launches with a poorly designed navigation. Someone tries to fix the problem by adding some more navigation (but doesn’t remove the old malfunctioning navigation.) Little by little, new pieces of navigation are added, all trying to address specific issues.

Before you know it, there’s a spaghetti junction of disparate, overlapping and competing navigational models all over the page and the whole thing is a mess. This is also a very common mistake made by those who don’t understand the Top Tasks approach. They add a little section to their website navigation called “Top Tasks”. This just adds to confusion and clutter and makes the customer experience even worse, as people try and navigate through a hodgepodge of navigation approaches. To reemphasize: Top Tasks is an approach for the entire customer experience (including the tiny tasks). If you’re not going to use it for your entire environment, you’re much better off not using it at all.

Trust versus use

The recent Facebook personal data controversary raises two questions: How much is our privacy worth to us? How much is our convenience worth to us? It seems that we value convenience much more than we value privacy.

Facebook is a business that makes money off our personal data. The more data on us it has the more money it makes. What Facebook is not is a community. Facebook may provide community-building tools but its essence is a business that makes money out of community, connectedness and personal data. Facebook sells you community-building tools for free, which you pay for by giving away your privacy. It gives you the printer for free but you pay for the ink.

15% of Australians trust Facebook, according to a survey that was carried out before the Cambridge Analyticia controversary erupted. It would be difficult to find a country where the majority of people trust Facebook. It would be difficult to find a country where the majority of people don’t use Facebook.

Why do we use what we don’t trust? If you were sawing wood would you use a saw that you didn’t trust? A saw whose blade had a reputation for splintering. Would you drive a car that you didn’t trust? Would you get on a plane you don’t trust?

Do you trust Ryanair? Do you fly with Ryanair? Do you trust Google? Do you use Google? Do you trust Facebook? Do you use Facebook?

Lots of people say they don’t trust Ryanair but they fly with them and thus do trust Ryanair with their safety and their lives. I may not trust Google the organization but I do trust Google Maps to get me where I’m going. We got a new car in January. It has a navigation system with a big screen. But I don’t use it. Instead, I use Google Maps on my smartphone with a much smaller screen. You see, I don’t trust that the car navigation system will get me to where I want to go by the fastest route. (I tried it a couple of times and it didn’t do the job well and I’m not going to try it again.)

Clearly, we trust Facebook for something. We trust it to help us find our friends. We trust it to help us efficiently manage our social lives. Facebook advertising is like Google advertising. It’s not like the traditional advertising that constantly disrupted and annoyed us. It is targeted and precise. It knows us, figures out what we’re interested in, knows what we want, or knows what we can be subtly made to want.

For some people, Facebook is a lifetime sentence of debt. It will convince us to consistently spend more than we can afford because the more we spend with its advertisers, the more money it makes. And we will do all this because it’s convenient, easy, familiar, free. It knows us like a friend.

The top digital brands know how critical convenience, findability and ease-of-use are. They know how critical it is to know us. We give up our personal data so easily and cheaply to those who make our lives easier. We see Facebook and Google as great bargains because they are free and easy-to-use. We need to know how much we are worth. We need to know how much we actually end up paying for what is so free and easy.


Why enterprise software fails (and what to do about it)

The Canadian government’s Phoenix payroll system is no more. It was supposed to cost about C$300 million and deliver tremendous efficiencies. Instead, it has cost C$1 billion and delivered nothing but pain and disaster.

“As the government has repeatedly acknowledged, IBM is fulfilling its obligations on the Phoenix contract, and the software is functioning as intended,” an IBM spokesperson told El Reg in March 2018. “IBM continues to work in partnership with the government’s efforts to resolve the project’s issues, and we remain committed to the project’s overall success.”

So, according to IBM, the software functioned as intended. Everything went to plan. “What I can guarantee is that we have a system that is working,” a US official stated after the disastrous rollout of its website in 2013. “We are going to improve the speed of that system,” she added.

Nobody who has any experience of enterprise software would be in any way shocked at such disasters. They come with monotonous regularity. At least 50% of IT systems fail, and most of those that ‘succeed’ deliver cruel and inhuman punishment to the employees they are supposed to serve.

These failures and disasters are not accidental. They are a deliberate result of a senior management culture that is contemptuous of employees and an IT culture that sees its primary job as to help fire as many employees as possible. From this highly toxic mix comes enterprise systems designed to fulfill contracts and meet management targets for firing people. Who these systems are never designed for is the employees who are supposed to use them. That should be an incredible statement but instead it is brutally, monotonously true.

“We thought we had all the necessary buy in, but the sales force didn’t want it,” CIO Chris McMasters explained to CIO in March 2018 about yet one more car crash implementation of a sales management system. “There was an extreme amount of resistance. Top management was on board.”

Of course, top management was onboard. Why wouldn’t they be when they have been presented a fictional nirvana business case. All those people you’ll be able to fire. All those management bonuses you’ll be able to get. All those tremendous savings. And how well it will look on your resume. Just make sure you’ve changed job before it’s actually launched and reality kicks in.

Globally, the culture of senior management is one of contempt for customers and employees. Of course, Marketing and Communications will spin a wholly different story. When you see loyal customers as an opportunity for overchanging, and potential customers as prey to be tricked by emotional advertising, how could you ever respect them? When you see employees as a cost, a resource to be replaced by technology where possible, how could you ever want to design technology for them that is easy to use?

We must change the toxic culture of senior management. We need managers who actually care about making it easy and fast for employees to do their jobs. And the funny thing is that those who care about ease-of-use will deliver real productivity, real efficiency, and much more successful organizations.

Canada to Scrap IBM Payroll Plan Gone Awry Costing C$1 Billion



Measure customer use of things, not customer satisfaction with things

“The problem with customer satisfaction surveys,” a sales manager once told me, “is that they don’t predict future behavior. We’ve found that customers who are ‘satisfied’ can be as likely to leave us as those who say they are not satisfied.”

When we measured a particular website in relation to how able customers were to complete their top tasks, the results were dismal. The marketing manager, on the other hand, wasn’t worried at all. “Our customer satisfaction results are fine,” she said. “That’s what we go by around here.”

Over the years, we’ve seen customer satisfaction data from a range of organizations in multiple industries and countries. The numbers are all very high, but they bear practically no resemblance to task performance on the sites and apps. There can be anything from a 30%-50% difference between task success and stated customer satisfaction. For example, you could have a totally wonderful 80% customer satisfaction rating and an absolutely terrible 30% task success rate.

The Net Promoter Score was developed to address some of these problems. In 2017, Jared Spool wrote an excellent article on the many flaws with this method. “It doesn’t help businesses grow. It doesn’t even tell the management how loyal the customer is,” Jared writes.

The problem with customer satisfaction surveys is as old as the hills. What people say and what they do can be very different things. Furthermore, people tend not to be very good at predicting what they are going to do in the future.

If we want good metrics, then we need to measure the actual customer experience. It won’t solve everything but it’s a lot better than asking people how satisfied they are. Our relationship with organizations is complicated. I’m an Amazon customer. However, I’m actively trying to buy as little as possible from them because I think they treat their staff appallingly, and also because I think they’re becoming a monopoly.

However, when I recently had a problem with an Amazon delivery, the support I got was excellent. Any issues (and there haven’t been many) that I have had with Amazon over the years have been addressed quickly. I never get the sense that they’re trying to rip me off, either—a sense I get from a huge range of other ‘brands’ I have to deal with. So, it’s very hard to leave Amazon entirely because they make things so easy and convenient.

Not like PayPal. I had an issue with a credit card with them and it’s been a nightmare; such a waste of time. An automated phone system that makes you want to jump from the nearest bridge. Email support that never gets back to you. A Twitter response that uses lovely language but doesn’t solve the problem. If I could never use PayPal again, I’d do so. And I have always found PayPal absolutely terrible to deal with.

Saving time, simplicity, ease-of-use, convenience. These are the things we need to measure, not ask people their opinion on. Measure, observe. One of the biggest competitive advantages you can have today is ease-of-use. How do you measure ease-of-use? Measure use.

Is it easy to measure use? No. Is it easy to measure ‘customer satisfaction’? Yes. Lazy, ‘cost conscious’ organizations like to find what’s easy to measure and then they manage that. You must decide what is vital to manage and then measure that. In a digital economy, the most vital thing to manage is use.

Net Promoter Score Considered Harmful: Jared Spool

Why organizations are still so bad at findability

Organizations still refuse to invest in findability. And they pay the price in poor customer experience and decreasing loyalty.

Part of the reason why Google is so strong and powerful is not simply because it understands that people like to find stuff quickly. It’s because the vast majority of organizations don’t recognize that it is strategically important to help people find the right stuff quickly. Thus, traditional organizations make it so easy for Google to dominate.

The quality of most organizational search environments is truly shocking. In my experience, there has been little real progress in the last twenty years in making it easier for people to find things on a typical organization’s website. Most organizations massively underinvest in designing quality navigation. They might be willing to buy the latest search engine software but when it comes to investing in the people and training required to make search work, it is either woefully lacking on non-existent.

Year-in, year-out, we show organizations how their customers truly struggle to find stuff on their websites, either by using navigation or search. Often, we will watch people try the site search engine, get terrible results, then go to Google and put in the exact same search phrase, and the correct page appears first.

Showing organizations how Google is vastly better than their own search engine is like telling them that it’s raining outside. There is a sense of fatalism and often indifference. We usually get told: “We know that already” And?

If you know your site search is truly awful, and you know that Google is ten times better, what should you do? Should you leave up your old search engine that you know is delivering a truly awful customer experience? Or should you try to fix it? And if you can’t fix it, what should you do?

Here’s the shocker: When I tell organizations that if they can’t do search properly they should just get rid of it. Point to the Google search engine, integrate it, whatever. “No, we can’t do that,” I get told every time. “We have to have our own search engine.” Why does this warped organizational thinking occur?

Because organizations need to own things and measure things: Search engines, content management systems, content, graphics, videos, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts. Remember the chorus a couple of years ago: “We need an app.” To most organizations, it’s entirely unimportant what the app does—what matters is that you have an app so that you are able to say that you have an app. Because all real organizations have apps and search engines and stuff like that. Why, if we didn’t have that sort of stuff, customers might think we’re not really digital and with it, and cool, and that sort of stuff.

Organizations do not measure customer outcomes like findability. I have yet to come across an organization where findability is a key performance indicator for senior management. Yes, in an age when findability is at the very center of the customer experience, the vast majority of organizations neither measure nor manage findability.

Organizations, please wake up. If content is the oil of the Web, then findability is the petrol / gasoline. Content that is not findable is crude. It sits there with untapped potential. If you don’t have a findability strategy, you don’t have a digital strategy.

The most powerful words are often not searched for

In the United States, 36% of people have a great deal of confidence in “higher education” but only 23% have confidence in “colleges and universities”, according a Gallup study published in March 2018. The words you use to describe things can have a very significant impact on how they are perceived.

Years ago, we measured the impact of “deals” and “special offers” on the tourism sector. We found that special offers were significantly more attractive to people than deals.

Recently, we’ve measured the differing impact between “health” and “wellbeing”. For certain types of tasks there wasn’t much of a difference, but for many others there was a major difference. For our particular study, “wellbeing” performed significantly better.

According to Google AdWords:
10 times more people search for “university” than search for “higher education”.
10 times more people search for “deals” than for “special offers”.
10 times more people search for “health” than for “wellbeing”.

Search is a partial picture of what really matters to people. Search words tend to be more functional, basic and shorter. There are a whole different set of words that are much more rarely—sometimes never—searched for, and that often mean much more to people. Yes, you need to focus on the words that will bring people to your website. But that’s just the start of the task. There are more important words that can have a critical influence on whether people complete their tasks on your website or app.

Why would somebody choose to do a Master’s? We found that a key question was: How will this Master’s advance my career? So, the phrase “Advance You Career” became very important. But nobody would search for “advance my career”. In car buying, we found “affordability” to be an important concept. Affordability is related to, but not the same as, price.

Sometimes, the words searched are just a symptom of the true problem. On the Microsoft Excel website, many people were searching for “remove conditional formatting”, so they created a page for this task. However, no matter how much they edited the page, it always got poor reviews. Turns out that what people really wanted to do was use conditional formatting properly. They’d get stuck and then search for “remove conditional formatting”. The Excel team deleted the page about removing, and made sure that these searchers found the overall page about conditional formatting. Reviews improved substantially.

On the BBC website, they thought that the Blue Planet series was exceptionally popular. That was until they discovered that lots of the searches were not for the series at all. Rather, they were people wanting to find out about the solar system, who were searching with the word “planet.” (These people were trying to get into outer space and ending up in the sea.)

Words matter. They truly, truly, truly matter. And they matter most when it comes to menus and links. By far, the number one cause for failed task completion in our studies is confusing menus and links. Every time. Yes, every single time. Getting your words right in your menus and links will have a greater positive impact on customer experience than any other initiative you will undertake.

Words Used to Describe “Higher Ed” Make a Difference, Gallup

If Google wanted to get found in Google

Google isn’t optimized for Google. It’s optimized for searching and finding. Focus on the task of your customers and you are much more likely to get found, used and valued.

If Google was optimized for Google what would it look like? Well, for starters, there’d be a lot of content repeating the words “search engine” on the homepage. (“Welcome to Google, the home of great search; the number one search engine.”) However, if you look at the Google homepage, there is only one use of the word “search”. Quite clearly, Google has a thing or two to learn about search engine optimization.

Google is severely suffering because of its lack of search engine optimization. I just searched for “search engine” on Google and it’s not good news for Google. The first search engine to appear in the results is DuckDuckGo, Followed by Dogpile. Google isn’t even in the first ten results, which is pretty appalling. Why would that be?

Of course, everyone knows Google. But how did people get to know Google in the first place? Because right from day one Google has always had a spartan homepage website. Google has never tried to be optimized for search engines. Instead, Google has tried to optimize for searching. Big, crucial difference; and something that so many organizations get wrong.

What Google has focused on is being useful. Google has focused on being the best place in the world to find answers. Google has focused on being what it is, being what people need from it. Google doesn’t have to say it’s a search engine because the large search box makes that statement for it. The design instantly expresses the function.

In this hugely impatient world if you have to start off by describing what you are, then you are already at a major disadvantage. The functionality of your design should instantly communicate your purpose by allowing people to immediately start the top task they have come to complete.

If you ever have to say you’re simple, you’re not. Because if you were truly simple then you wouldn’t have to waste time telling people you are. You’d just be simple. Only those with complexity syndrome feel the need to explain that they are simple. The more you have to write about how to use your product or service, the more you have failed as a designer.

Getting found is just a tactic. What matters is what happens after you get found. What matters is what happens after people arrive, when people are there using your website or app. Findability does not lead to usability, but usability leads to findability. Because usability and usefulness are the greatest search engine optimization strategies of all. Because they tap into social findability. Other people telling other people. Because that’s how Google grew. And that’s how so many other great digital brands grew. By being useful.

So many times, I have seen search engine optimization tactics result in the creation of truly awful websites. Such tactics often achieve the goal of bringing people to the website. What happens then? People experience clutter, confusion and lots of garbage “search engine friendly” content.

The reason a website exists is not to get found. The reason a website exists is to be useful.

Complexity is making many experts redundant

David Davis is the UK government Brexit Secretary. David doesn’t believe much in planning or predicting. In his opinion, they should just Brexit and then see what happens because it’s all too complicated to predict anything these days.

Back in 2016, David promised impact analyses on 57 sectors of the UK economy that would go into “excruciating detail”. At some point, David decided to avoid all that excruciating detail and just fly by the seat of his pants. “I’m not a fan of economic models because they have all proven wrong,” he said.

Good old David basically admitted that while they have been making huge decisions about the European customs union and the single market they have literally no idea what the impact might be. Except that it will be big.

Should we be surprised? Not at all. Wars have been fought because one king was jealous of the size of another king’s poodle. Some of the biggest company mergers have been decided as two CEOs looked into each other’s eyes over a candlelit dinner. Monumental decisions causing death, despair and ruin for millions have throughout history been made by the whims of vain, ambitious men.

I was involved in the whole Dotcom bubble in the Nineties. I was CEO of a company that was valued by one of the world’s leading investment banks at $200 million. Eighteen months later it went bust. To see these investment bankers in action was amazing. I’m sure they didn’t read any of the plans we gave them because they never asked us a single question. It was they who had approached us telling us how much money they could raise. They were riding the bubble. Everything was cool. Until it wasn’t.

Over the years, I have watched some very important decisions being made at a senior management level on pure gut instinct, opinion and mood. Wow, I thought, is this management? Is this what they get their mega bonuses for?

David Davis is right. The models are broken. The more complexity increases the more the old models break down. But, David, it’s not just the economic models that are broken. It’s the political models that turn out bumbling, arrogant buffoons like you with production line efficiency. It’s the management models that reward mediocre talent, who don’t really have a clue what is happening, with excruciating bonuses. The longest lasting and most bloated bubble of all is the explosion of senior management pay.

The poor politicians and senior managers don’t and can’t know what is really happening because it’s all become too complex. Instead of helping develop new organizational and political models based on collaboration, agility and evidence-based decision making, our politicians and managers have become the problem. Because they have the most to lose when it’s discovered that most of them have no clue what they’re talking about.

Trust is collapsing around the world because people realize that the system and the institutions are no longer fit for purpose. We need new organizational models that are much less hierarchical and predictive and much more collaborative and adaptive.

Developing a customer obsession culture

Being customer-centric is hardly enough these days. To truly be successful, you need to nurture a customer obsession culture within your organization.

Customer obsession begins with humility. The opposite of customer obsession is organization obsession, ego obsession, bureaucracy obsession. Customer obsession is about genuinely putting the customer first. That is the most extraordinarily difficult thing to do for a great many organizations, whether they be government or commercial.

The natural order for organizations everywhere is to focus on their own needs, and that very often translates into focusing on the needs of its senior managers. For example, the typical function of government is to make the party in power look good. The public servants must focus on the needs of the government ministers first. Getting government to actually focus on the needs of the public—to truly put the public first—is often extraordinarily difficult.

Humility involves constantly listening to and observing customers. It means making decisions based on evidence of customer behavior, not opinion or ego. Most importantly, it means measuring success based on customer success, not organization success. In a customer success culture, organization success flows from, and is dependent on, customer success.

Agility is the next characteristic of customer obsessed organizations. To truly understand and design for customers requires constant iteration and experiment. It is almost impossible to look inside the organization and understand the customer. To design for the customer you must design with the customer, and that requires flexible open minds. That’s the whole philosophy of minimum viable product, lean and agile design. It’s about design through use, evolution through use.

Customers are changing far faster than organizations. Organizations need to keep up. Most organizations have stiff joints. Many have arthritis, and quite a few are the walking dead. We need massive Pilates and Yoga initiatives to loosen organizations up. It is shocking, for example, how slow most organizations are to make basic changes to their websites or apps. Amazon makes changes on average every 12 seconds.

Simplicity for the customer is the final key characteristic of customer obsession. If you want to be obsessed with your customers, be obsessed with saving them time. It all boils down to time. For many customers, they will give up much of their privacy in order to achieve greater convenience.

Organizations are wonderful at saving time and money for themselves. Many organizational time-saving innovations (automated phone systems, localization, outsourcing) waste customer time in order to save time and money for the organization.

You could get away with such tactics before the Web, when the customer had much less choice and was much less empowered. In an age when customers are far more independent-minded, disloyal, and connected with other customers and competitors, it is those who obsess about saving customers time who will lead the digital race.

What do you think are the most important things to do to nurture a customer obsession culture? Please let me know by answering my survey. Thanks.




Dear AVG, I’m just going to have to let you go

It’s not easy breaking up. I mean, forget about loyalty, it’s the sheer hassle. Going out again, on the lookout for something better. Thinking that they’re all the same anyway. Lots of promises to lure you in and then over time they all maltreat you. It’s easy to get cynical in this crazy world.

I would have stayed, you know, but it just got to a stage where you became super-annoying. Those constant popups. You really did become like the boor at the bar who goes on and on and on about all these great things you’re doing for me. Protecting me from this, optimizing that. It was so disruptive and incredibly annoying and even when I thought I had turned those infernal messages off, they kept coming.

But it wasn’t just that. Your ransomware dark-pattern approach to design got to be too much. You’d give this message about how you had been super nice and analyzed performance and found some problems that you could fix if I just clicked on some button. And when I did: “Pay us $29 to fix these problems!” Just feels like trickery and ransomware.

I know, I know. This is how you meet your sales targets. This is how your senior managers get their bonuses. You’re a predator and I’m the prey. How to squeeze more money out of me seems to be your core focus.

I know. I know. All the other anti-virus companies are the same. I agree. I just had a bad experience with Malwarebytes. I had tried it out for a while and decided not to use it further. Then, out-of-nowhere, in pops an email thanking me for renewing for another year. That dark pattern auto-renewal that’s wrapped up in “we care so much about you” language. And how it’s impossible to turn off the auto-renew on the Malwarebytes site. How you can’t close your account either. But it’s very easy to give them nice new, juicy credit card details.

You’re the companies that are protecting us? Often feels like a protection racket. And, I suppose, you just don’t care. There’s enough busy, lazy fools (like myself) out there to get sucked in and then ripped off in order to make the whole business model work like a dream.

When I listen to the radio in the car I never hear an ad for current customers. “Hey, you’ve been with us three years. You’re getting a discount for staying the fourth.” You never hear that. Practically every ad screams: Switch! Switch! Switch!

The only reward in marketing and advertising is for being disloyal. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to be and do. I’m going to be disloyal and I’m going to switch. In fact, I have come to the belief that switching is one of the most powerful things we can do to make for a better, fairer society.

So much of traditional management thinking is based on exploiting the laziness of the loyal customer. The more we switch, the more we transfer power from organizations to customers. Think of how powerful one million customers switching is. The Web is the land of comparison and switch. We’ve got so much power today. Let’s not let laziness get in the way. Switch!