Read this. Now.

Steve Jobs Read this
  • Jakob Nielsen on realistic and achievable research and UX evidence:  “Make no mistake: if you require perfection you’ll have no research. Go with some data, because it’s much better than guessing. “
  • Gerry McGovern on online strategy and how to do it: “Most companies and their top executives … cannot explain coherently how their actions should lead to superior performance.”
  • New Deloitte research finds that if a small business has high levels of ‘digital engagement’… it is twice as likely to be growing and will be earning two times more revenue per employee.

Inside a values-led organisation

Excerpt from the talk I prepared for the launch of the inaugural Coburg Children’s Centre website. Enjoy.

Coburg children's Centre website

“Today we’re launching the first Coburg Children’s Centre (CCC) website.

Something missing?

It’s unusual to launch a website with a criticism of your client… but I think there’s something missing I’d like to point out.

The Centre’s philosophy statement is: Coburg Children’s Centre is a nurturing community made up of children, families and staff. In our nature-based setting we value diversity, wellbeing, learning and development, environmental responsibility, and fun.

What’s missing from this statement text is something really important that underlies work at the Centre: “seriousness”.

You only need to spend 2 days with Marlene and Michelle going through web content line by line, to realise how seriously they take the CCC endeavour.

Many organisations mouth platitudes about being ‘values-led’ but at CCC they really are.

The Centre’s ethos underpins everything they do – from fees to food to fun to the future of the Centre and the planet, and everything in between. That’s not to say they get everything right all the time but that they have great systems ready to swing into action to fix mistakes and improve as they go.

I can prove it

When I asked parents and staff to rank the five things they wanted to find out about and do on the new website they chose ‘philosophy and values’ first. This makes sense, as a parent you need to find out more about these things – the values permeate all the systems at the Centre – so you need to know about them.

My respondents ranked ‘child behaviour and development’ as second. Of course you’d trust the staff and educators at CCC to help you understand what’s happening for your children – they’re the leaders and authorities in the field.

Third, parents wanted to know about the children’s programs. And why not? The programs are carefully designed with parent and educator input and thoroughly considered.

Fourth, was about the rooms and fifth was practical – how to on-sell your bookings.

Once I knew what parents were interested in, I asked the same people to help me structure these interests into the site via an online ‘card sort’. I looked at what items they categorised together and what language they used for the categories.

The website is designed to be easy to maintain, it’s built in WordPress and has 22 pages excluding the home page, 30 images, 3300 words and an average of under 160 words per page. Which makes it quite wordy but there’s a reason for that…

Not a brochure

Unlike some equivalent sites, this website isn’t a business card. It’s not a brochure and it’s not a sales prospectus.

It’s part of the Centre’s services. It’s an extension of the excellence they provide in Childcare. It has to be authoritative. It’s fully referenced both internally and to important external websites. It’s a living document that the Centre can easily maintain and improve as they go – something I know they will do.

I’ve learnt a lot about values-based management from CCC which I hope to continue in my own business and personal life.

I hope you’ve learnt something from me. About F pattern reading, how visitors scan for keywords and about online accessibility.

Thanks for giving me the chance to work with you to develop your first website.”


On cows and web FAQs: 3 thought experiments

Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein

Thought experiment 1: infrequently asked questions FAQs

Imagine you’re in a viewing room above a dairy watching afternoon milking time. A few questions pop into your mind: How often are the cows milked? How long does it take to milk?

A nearby poster – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – attracts your attention. The questions on the poster include: What’s the volume flow of the milk being pumped? What brand are the suction attachments? How often is the plant equipment upgraded? 

None of these questions are the ones that sprang to your mind. How do you feel?

Thought experiment 2: the ‘all question’ dump FAQs

Again, imagine you’re at the dairy watching the milking process and pondering some simple questions such as: How long does it take to milk all the cows and What happens to the milk? 

You see a door marked with the label: FAQs. You open the door and enter the room. On the walls are 10 posters all composed of questions and answers on general farming topics. Your topic might be there but you only have 20 seconds before you have to leave.

How’s that working for you?

Thought experiment 3: unrelated FAQs

Milking time and those bothersome questions again. This time you’re attracted to an FAQs poster. This time it has information about the menu at the Cafe next door like How much is a caffe latte? and  Who is the CEO of the Cafe?

Blood boiling yet?

These FAQs blunders happen on the web all the time

Absurd exercises or have you had similar experiences on the web? These are common errors seen on websites we’ve all visited:

  1. Infrequently asked questions FAQs: questions that are just plain made-up (and often too technical) to fit the question and answer format
  2. The ‘all questions’ dump FAQs: when you click on the FAQs menu item you get all possible questions lumped together in one long page – how do I know my question has been very frequently asked?
  3. Unrelated FAQs: questions and answers that don’t directly apply to the information you’re currently looking at

Milking time at Caldermeade Farm and Cafe

OK, so you’ve got this far so you deserve to see the sign that prompted me to think about all this: it’s a physical FAQs sign at the milking viewing room at Caldermeade Farm and Cafe:

FAQs sign: 1. How often are the cows milked? Twice a day - 4.30am and 3.30pm. 2. How long does it take to milk? 400 cows are milked by 2 operators in approximately 1 hour 40 mins. 3. How many cows can fit on the milking platform? 50 cows. 4. How long does it take a platform (with 50 cows) to rotate? 10 mins.

 It’s brilliant because the language and format are so simple, it quickly answered all the questions I had in mind and improved my experience.

Do your website FAQs like Caldermeade Farm

  • Make sure your questions are frequently asked: this sounds so logical that it seems inconceivable that it could be ignored. It’s obvious that someone at Caldermeade over the years has taken the trouble to listen to the questions and write them down in frequency order.
  • Don’t lump all of your questions and answers at the end of a click: As Gerry McGovern writes: “Links are signposts. They are promises to the customer. They must tell customers where they are going and what they will get when they get there. The essential problem with FAQs is that it is not useful or helpful.” I agree with Gerry: the label FAQs is misleading navigation. Instead…
  • Relate your FAQs to the content on the page people are likely to have questions about.
  • Keep your questions and answers focused and short: one of the problems with FAQs as an informational format is that the first few words are taken up with question words – what, how, why. If you must use FAQs (they can be useful and helpful if they adhere to the 3 first points)  keep the questions and answers short so people can scan quickly to the keywords they’re looking for.
  • If you don’t have a mechanism for collecting frequently asked questions then get one! Ask any customer facing people in your organisation about the topics they regularly get enquiries about. Last night I wanted to find out about kids birthday parties at a swimming pool complex. Their webpage listed all details apart from the price. Like 99% of people who ended up on that page, we just needed an indication of price. I had to ring up and ask. Surely that’s an FAQ but I bet the person I spoke to on the phone hasn’t passed that on to the web author.

The great thing about the Caldermeade FAQs is that Caldermeade management is so confident these are the right questions and answers that they’ve printed them on a board. Not so good if they need to change them. That’s the advantage of the web. Find out something is trending as an FAQ… just update the page.

What hospitals, airports & cities can learn from websites

Three authors from such diverse professions as healthcare and urban design draw on ideas that have been closely associated with, and further developed in, the field of website design: service design, usability, user experience and human-centred design.

Customer experience in hospital

What would hospitals be like if they were run by Disney? This fascinating thought experiment has occupied the mind of Fred Lee, a former hospital executive who consulted on healthcare with Disney. In this ABC podcast interview external link icon Fred explains Disney’s view on customer experience (the experiences a customer has with goods or services providers). And here’s more about his book, If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9 ½ Things You Would Do Differently external link icon.

Usability saves time at airports

 Last year over five billion people travelled by air, each one of these people arrived at the airport and made their way through the necessary stages of waiting; check-in, security, customs, boarding. On average, each passenger will have spent 42 minutes doing nothing but waiting. Not eating or reading or relaxing, just waiting.

Think about how much better the world would be if we could save just 3 minutes of waiting at airports. Find out how PhD student Anna Harrison uses ideas on human-centred design to analyse and redefine existing approaches to check-in and boarding: Airports – where you go to wait external link icon.

Urban design as service design

How did the data on cholera in 19th century London affect the design of its infrastructure? These days masses of phone data are collected as we move through urban environments. How can this be used to design better cities?
In this ABC interview external link icon, Urban Infomatics Design Lead at Arup Michelle Tabet  explains how data is being used to design successful urban projects. Find out more about Michelle’s design ideas: Urban design is service design external link icon.

Happy new web business year

The start of a new year is an opportunity to check on your web strategy. Take the Annual web health check and find out how you’re going – and where you can do better.

The first few months of the New Year are a great time for businesses to take stock, evaluate performance, and set new goals for the future. The online performance of your small business should be a high priority area for you to focus on.

Conducting an annual web health check is an excellent way to assess just how well the web presence of your business compares to that of your competition. Using this checklist can help ensure that your business is meeting the growing expectations of web users.