Creating meaningful online experiences | STC Summit ‘12

Karen McGrane was thoroughly impressive, but so too, was Patrick DiMichele (@theParanoids on Twitter).

Patrick, who spends his time making the internet a better place, draws a mean (and entertaining) comparison between websites and supermarkets.

Now, if you’re a member of the 99%, you’ve probably walked into a grocery store at least once in your life. You might even visit one on a semi-regular basis. Patrick lists the six stores in the Chicagoland area that he’s frequented in the last few months. Of the list, most met his basic needs, but they didn’t leave any sort of favorable impression. None, that is, save Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetables—the kind of place where the owner, Stanley, smokes a pipe while flying a watermelon airplane. Of course he does.

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All that to say that as creators of online experiences, we should strive to be like Stanley’s. Whether it’s pumping upbeat 80s music or uniting behind a watermelon-flying mascot, let’s create experiences that people actually want to immerse themselves in.

Patrick referenced Aaron Walter’s Designing for Emotion, saying that meaningful online experiences must not only be usable, reliable, and functional, but also pleasurable. And as we users of the interwebs can attest, very, very few online experiences pass the pleasure bar.

So, what makes an experience pleasurable? According to Patrick, any combo of the following: intuitive navigation and tools, friendliness, usefulness, participatory nature, and the element of surprise. Let’s run through his list.

Intuitive navigation & tools: Here, it’s about balancing user needs with those of the business through page hierarchy, navigation, labels, and search functionality. Notable examples: Chicago’s Field Museum with its action-oriented nav bar and the TED site’s intuitive, yet complex search functionality.

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Friendliness: Again, balance is key—striking an approachable tone that appeals to your audience while being true to your organization’s personality. Who’s killing it? Zipcar (who knew “zip” could be used in so many fun ways?) and MailChimp, because everybody loves being congratulated while creating eCommunications by a cute, quirky little chimp in uniform.
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Usefulness: Some sites try linking to every possible scenario under the sun on their home page. Useful in theory, sort of, but completely overwhelming. Patrick says that to be truly useful, have all that great info available, but only surface it when the user’s asking for it.

Participatory: We value being empowered to comment, create, and guide our experience—just look at the success of crowd-driven sites like Threadless and Kickstarter. My favorite example of Patrick’s: The College of William & Mary’s Ampersandbox. It’s brilliant. The clever and visually-appealing campaign not only plays on the notion of pairings that characterize the college’s culture, it targets various demographics of prospective students.

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Surprising: We like a good surprise, whether it’s a site’s Easter egg or a red hand that appears after clicking on “Do Not Pull” icon. Infuse the element of surprise at just the right moments, and inspire some moments of unexpected delight in your users. Target does this with their “wink”—you can, too.

At Übermind, and now with Deloitte Digital, we’re inspired by engaging experiences. Through an unscientific mix of brand voice, web/mobile/social presence, and office culture, we’ve tried to communicate that engagement to recruits, potential clients, and the digital community. And a few great examples like Patrick’s provided go a long way to reinspire that mission.

Want more STC? Read my earlier post on Karen McGrane’s summit session.

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One thought on “Creating meaningful online experiences | STC Summit ‘12

  1. Pingback: GoodMaker » Create Meaningful Online Experiences

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