In 2012, our company decided to invest in enhancing our team's overall expertise through several professional education programs. Regardless of title, each employee receives a set amount of funds each year to learn about latest trends and processes, all to provide consistently excellent recommendations to our clients.
To help share some of those learning experiences, some of our Simpleview team members will be posting here on the blog about their times in classes and conferences. To kick off this "We Learn, You Learn" series, Mario Vasquez on our Research and Development team has written about his time at the An Event Apart conference in San Diego, CA.
This was my second year attending the An Event Apart Conference. The conference is a one-track conference with highly experienced experts to talk about the topics that all web designers and developers are trying to tackle in today's Web world.
Every speaker was great, but my favorite was Jared Spool. Jared is the founder of User Interface Engineering, the largest usability research organization the world. He gave his talk "It's a Great Time to be an Experience Designer," in which he gave several examples of companies that have designed for the gaps of an experience.
For example, the Microsoft store, Nook kiosks and others have copied the experience you have at an Apple store. The layout, displays and furniture have a very similar look to each other. This is mostly because of the fact that the Apple store makes 17 times more revenue per square foot than the average mall store and twice as much more revenue as Tiffany's. Little details that make this retail store experience so enjoyable are what make them so successful.
However, copying a successful model is not a new concept. Others have been making big money in designing a great experience. Disney has been doing it since the ‘70s and Google did it with search engines.
Jared gave other examples to illustrate this. Nest is a thermostat that is designed by the people that created the iPod. It learns every time you adjust the temperature and lets you control it through an app when you're away from the house. Square makes a device that lets small businesses accept credit cards with their iPhone or iPad. Walgreens has a cool app that makes filling prescriptions more convenient. Even the circus business is seeing that the experience makes a big difference, as Cirque du Soleil started as bunch of street performers and applied design to their acts, now taking in more ticket sales every day than all of Broadway every day.
Experience is becoming more important and the design industry is booming, but this is only one part of the innovation process cycle. The first step is technology. When new technology comes out, people get excited and try it out for a higher price. Once another company can offer the same technology, prices come down and features are the next thing to set them apart. Then the next shift usually involves removing features and focusing on a better experience by making things easier to understand. Once the experience is improved, new technology comes along and starts the cycle over.
So, how does this apply to destination marketing?
I see many destination marketing organizations (DMOs) adding features to their website with every redesign. Like moving to a new house, you tend to accumulate more "necessary" stuff that takes up space and is not used by anybody. After all, why throw away the things you may have paid lots of money for in the past?
This is where we need to think about what the ultimate goal of a DMO website is, to get people to your destination. The different reasons for getting to the site should influence your design decisions. Just like how the examples that Jared Spool gave, you can take a different approach to how we do that by designing for the experience of a website user.
I can pick a common task and compare it to any popular app that does the same thing. If I was looking to find somewhere that serves a good steak on a DMO website, I may click "Restaurants" in the navigation and see a list of restaurants that I can then filter down to "Steakhouses." To stay competitive with apps, you may display ratings, distance information, directions and contact information. This is great, as you are providing information that users find very handy and provides them with a common experience when looking for a business. However, DMOs can do better by offering a personal touch. They can act as a user's close friend, one that knows the area better than anyone else does.
Adding features may seem like a good idea, but you may be adding to the confusion. Competing services have no choices but to add features. They may try to add social media marketing to fill the gap for that personal touch, but your website shouldn't be neglected. Any DMO can improve the experience with features, but to set yourself apart, you can focus on improving the gaps between each point of interaction.
We tend to think of an interaction as any point where a user clicks on something, but an interaction can happen any time somebody uses any of their senses. The more features you have, the more interaction is involved. This is where we see concepts such as flat design, minimal design and content strategy being used to provide faster loading web pages and intuitive navigational tools.
If you are in the market to refresh or redesign your DMO website, use those best practices. Yet, you can also use the tools you already have access to learn more about your user. Analytic tools may be something you already have access to that will give you a good start. You can also get user data by researching what other DMOs may be doing and looking to the experts for user research data. If you've done that and still don't think that you're setting yourself apart from the average app, then it may take an expert to analyze your users or offer more creative solutions.
Sounds easy enough, right? If you don't have the resources or time to do all of this yourself, it's important to start with the mindset that features are not always where the value is. Keep an open mind to trying new things and don't be afraid to ask other experts, even if it doesn't relate to your industry.