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Posts from the ‘Startup’ Category

Get More Customers by Design

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Everyone wants more customers.  Paying customers preferably.  A lot is written about SEO (search engine optimization) and advertising strategies to drive more traffic to your website, but how can you simply improve your website layout to get more customers.  Traffic is good, but a customer is twice as nice.  Keep these 5 things in mind while you are designing your website – they have all been shown to increase customer yields by >100%.

#1  Make the “Sign Up” Button Really Big

Seriously.  I mean it.  From looking at a lot of test results, making the Sign Up button big, front and center, in your face, is the #1 thing you can do in your web design to help your business. is a great example of this.  Dropbox is a really complicated, feature rich service.  Let’s be honest.  Dropbox is way more sophisticated technically and visually than whatever you are working on. They are able to keep it simple; you can too.

#2  Use A/B Testing

I just mentioned “testing”.  That means A/B testing – where you present your customers with different versions of the same website and see which ones get better results.  This is critical for tweaking the site’s design in your favor…as opposed to guessing what your customer might want.  A great service for this is Google Website Optimizer

#3  Add Testimonials

Testimonials often boost sign ups by at least 50%.  I don’t know why; they are kind of cheesy in my opinion.  But they work, so don’t fight it.  Try it.  But what’s better than a testimonial from a random person?  A testimonial from a friend.  So don’t forget to push your customers to invite their friends during the sign up process.

#4  Focus Text and Graphics on Customer Action

Use the text and graphics to tell the customer about what they are supposed to do.  The customer should “Go…”, “Get…”, “Create…”, “Discover…” whatever benefit your website is offering.  Engage the customer on the benefits of the product and the wonderful things it will allow the customer to do.  That is just good marketing.  What would you do instead?  What everyone does – tell the customer about how great the product is, the specifications, the functionalities and everything else that has no direct benefit to the customer.

#5 Include Faces When Appropriate

Studies show that the way people use the internet is that they scan their eyes to see the pictures on the screen.  That is where they focus.  Pictures of people and of people’s faces catch our attention in particular.  Seeing faces on a screen release powerful neurotransmitters that make customers suggestible.  So use pictures of people’s face, whenever you can.  The A/B test show it is that easy.  And if that isn’t convincing, well, it worked for Facebook.

The Design of Everyday Things: Action Summary and Outline

I recently finished “The Design of Everyday Things”.  I found Norman’s perspective on inanimate objects eye-opening.  But, I did find the book dense and if I have one criticism- it’s that the book isn’t designed to guide you towards becoming a better designer.  “The Design of Everyday Things” is a psychological treatise that is loosely organized with lots of examples.  So what I have tried to do in this post is breakdown the key points and rearrange them a bit, so that it reads more like a manual for better design.  If you haven’t read the book, you can buy it here.

Design Basics

“Design must convey the essence of a device’s operation; the way it works; the possible actions that can be taken; and, through feedback, just what it is doing at any particular moment. Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

“Each time a new technology comes along, new designers make the same horrible mistakes as their predecessors. Technologists are not noted for learning from the errors of the past. They look forward, not behind, so they repeat the same problems over and over again. Today’s wireless devices are appalling.”

“Whenever the number of possible actions exceeds the number of controls, there is apt to be difficulty.”

How People Do Things – The 7 Steps

1)       Forming the goal

2)      Forming the intention

3)      Specifying an action

4)      Executing the action

5)      Perceiving the state of the world

6)      Interpreting the state of the world

7)      Evaluating the outcome

Repeat back to #1 based on what has happened as a result of actions

The point of understanding How People Do Things is to avoid the Gulfs of Execution and Evaluation when designing products.

A Gulf of Execution arises when there is a difference between the intentions and the allowable actions provided by a system.  For example, if you want to open the sunroof, but there are no buttons to be found that might allow you to open the sunroof.  Alternatively, a long sequence of actions may be required that are unintelligible to you, so you just don’t open the sunroof.

A Gulf of Evaluation arises when a great amount of effort is required to interpret the physical state of a system and/or determine how well expectations and intentions have been met.  A good example of this is a CD player where it is impossible to tell whether there is a CD in the player or not.  In addition, a system that provides no feedback – i.e. you click a button and nothing happens affirmative or negative – resulting in a Gulf of Evaluation.

Building on these concepts, you can ask yourself 7 questions to make sure your design is inline with How People Do Things:

1)  How easily can one determine the function of the device?

2)  How easily can one tell what actions are possible?

3)  How easily can one tell if the system is in the desired state?

4) How easily can one determine mapping from intention to physical movement?

5)  How easily can one determine mapping from system state to interpretation?

6)  How easily can one perform an action?

7)  How easily can one tell what state the system is in?

The 3 foundations to good design serve to answer these seven questions:

A good conceptual model. The designer provides a good conceptual model for the user, with consistency in the presentation of operations and results and a coherent, consistent system image.

Good mappings. It is possible to determine the relationships between actions and results, between the controls and their effects, and between the system state and what is visible.

Feedback. The user receives full and continuous feedback about the results of actions.

What Knowledge Does Your User Have?

Common and instinctive visual knowledge is easily retrievable and visible/audible.  There is no learning required and ease of use at first encounter is high.  Challenges are that the user may need to try to interpret the design since information is not communicated explicitly.  In addition, the design may not be aesthetically pleasing given a common need to maintain a lot of information.

Remembered or learned knowledge makes for efficient use and minimalist design.  However, it requires learning to use, particularly before initial use.

How Does the User Know What to Do?

Placing constraints makes it easier for the user to know what to do

Physical constraints

Semantic constraints

Cultural constraints

Logical constrains

Allowing the user too many different ways to use a device by not constraining the controls/functionality is a common cause of poor design.

Make the invisible, visible

                Have a good display

                Use sound to enhance visibility

How Do You Keep the User From Making Errors?

Errors come in two different flavors- 1) slips result from automatic behavior and 2) mistakes result from conscious deliberations

Common slip errors

  • Capture error – a frequently done activity is swapped with another frequently done activity
  • Description error – the intended action has much in common with others that are possible
  • Data-Driven error – data-driven activities can intrude into an ongoing action sequence causing unintended behavior
  • Associate Activation error – internal thought triggers incorrect action – Freudian slip
  • Loss-of-activation error – forgetting to do something
  • Mode error – when a device has different modes of operation, and the action appropriate for one mode has different meanings in other modes

You need feedback loops in place for the user to detect that there has been a slip!

Happy Holidays: Craigslist is Giving Away $100MM Startups

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I realized last night that Craigslist is the most powerful startup business generator that I’ve seen to date.  Please comment below if you’ve seen better (I am curious).  Here’s why:

#1 People tell you what they need on Craigslist.

Before building a product, that is what you need to know – what is it that my customer needs/is willing to pay me for?  If you are looking for a customer need to satisfy, you can see the frequency and magnitude of the need as well as the geographic distribution on Craigslist.  If you are worried about sampling error, don’t, it’s the 11th most visited website in the US.  Run with that.

#2 Craigslist is a list of services that are in demand that you can do better.

If it is a category on Craigslist or topic on Craigslist, that means there is demand for the service.  One of the key functions of the internet is to allocate excess inventory.  If that is too much jargon for you, think about that Google allocates advertisements better, Kayak allocates airline seats better, Daily Deal sites allocate excess retail inventory better, etc…Craigslist does this too.  It brokers exchanges between people who have too much of something and people who need that something.

Conveniently for the startup community, Craigslist does it kind of poorly and is content not improving and competing with you.  Just add better design, marketing and customer service and you can beat Craigslist at its own game once it has discovered a customer need for you.  This reinforces the idea that your startup isn’t about coming up with the next thing to solve the world’s problems that no one has ever thought of before – it is about doing it better.  Because honestly, whatever you are working on, Craigslist has probably been doing it for the last 10 years.  A few examples for your consideration:

Housing:  Doing before it was hot and probably before those guys were even born.

Community Section:  Doing,, for years.

Discussion Forums:  Doing et al…for years.

For sale:  OK, has been there for a while.  I’ll give you that one.

Jobs:,, are all old hat.

Personals Section:  Doing, etc…for years.

…so what matters is how you do it!  Fortunately, Craigslist is willing to do it kind of mediocrely for you first.  Just remember to say thank you.