In the Netflix cartoon ‘Archer,’ Krieger makes a mini submarine in a swimming pool to help the characters in their new smuggling operation. And then someone asks how he plans to transport the submarine to the ocean, causing him to wail emptily at the failure of his foresight. Something that works perfectly for its designer but fails to work in the real world gives every user experience, or UX, designer sleepless nights.

The comparison is even more accurate because, like the permanently landlocked sub, a website is often developed a long way from the end user. Once it’s put in front of them, shiny and new, its flaws become all too obvious, but by then it’s often too late to make any real changes and good money slowly and inexorably starts to follow bad. The way to stop this happening is to follow Hick’s law.

This states that the time taken to make a decision increases with the alternatives. Henry Ford famously said that customers could have any color they wanted as long as it was black, and while nobody is saying that every piece of apparel and promotional material has to be monochrome, it doesn’t make sense to offer every color of the rainbow. If you already have three variants of red to choose, you may not need 27 more.

Hick’s law could also apply to menus and drop-down boxes. Too few, and your customization options are limited. Too many, and people can quickly find themselves lost in a maze where every variable has another bunch of variables attached. The button that will be most often used won’t be the one that allows a customer to make an order, but the one that helps them reset their design to the default settings.

7 things to think about

The law might have come into being decades before the Internet, but it stands behind almost all of the principles of good UX design and is present in each of the steps below:

1. Remember the end user

One of the most fundamental questions for your business, let alone your site, is to think about who your customers will be. In the same way that you conducted your research, put together a business plan, and launched the business, you need to keep people in mind when you build your site. If your store is intended for seniors, it makes no sense to build a website that talks to them in the same way that Snapchat talks to its users.

Your composite of the ideal customer can then be used to answer almost every question that you ask as you build the site. Being able to design a logo is a great feature, but it makes no sense if the logo builder is too complicated for the level of your clients’ design literacy. Equally, having the facility to upload files is also useful, but you need to think about what formats are supported and how user-friendly it is for non-experts.

2. Think about the homepage

While your impulse might be to make this a quirky and cool summation of your brand values, that’s almost certainly not what your customer needs when they’re ordering promotional merchandise. Have clear images that tell them quickly and clearly how the site works and what they need to do will be more effective and will be much more likely to lead to successful order completion.

Copy needs to be short and direct. A study has suggested that the average human attention span is now around 8 seconds, so the chances of anyone wading through paragraphs of dense text is close to zero. That also makes the images very important. They need to be clear, bright, and used to inform your new visitor and make it easy to create action – and orders.

3. Navigation

Buttons labelled ‘exciting’ or ‘cool stuff’ may not be useful to the customer tasked with ordering 5,000 branded polo shirts in various sizes inside the next hour. Worse yet, the reaction may be an eye roll followed by a visit to your competitor.

The same principles apply to button design as to website design. They need to be legible, large, and clearly labelled. Use a word that applies directly to what the button does and make sure the button itself is of a size that doesn’t involve a painful 5 minutes while the user tries to align the pointer. If it’s for polo shirts, then it needs to say ‘polo shirts’ and if it’s for the checkout, it needs to say so. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

It also needs to be easy to move around the site without getting stuck. Menu options should be visible on the appropriate pages. It’s also worth considering an option that allows the user to save their order or create a wish list so that it won’t be lost if they accidentally close the page or have to focus on another task. All of these should be very clearly labelled.

4. Product pages

The excitement of creating a new site can mean the mechanics get overlooked. You need to remember that the essential part of the site is the product pages and it’s here that your customer will be spending most of their time. Include the details of each and every product in the description but remember this needs to be concise.

Each product will need to have prices, colors, and sizes clearly indicated and it should be easy to select the ones required along with the quantities. It should go without saying that adding them to the basket should be easy, and that when the customer decides to complete their order, it should be easy to revise it without starting the process again.

5. It’s all about the basket

According to the Baymard Institute, retail has a basket abandonment rate of around 70%, depending on the study you read. There were 53% who found the extra costs too high, such as shipping, taxes, and other fees, while 31% were asked to create an account.  For 23% the checkout process was too labor intensive and 20% couldn’t calculate the total cost of the order before making a purchase.

These statistics are a fairly clear demonstration that the process should be both smooth and transparent. A transaction which only adds $100 for shopping at the very last click will build resentment with its customers, as will one that introduces unexpected caveats to its discounts. It should also be possible to proceed without creating an account, but if you want the customer to have one, try incentivizing it with a promo code.

6. Reassuring signs of security

Your customers will want to know their data is safe with you. Internet security companies whose services you might use may allow you to use a logo saying that your site is protected by their software. If there’s anything particularly robust about your online security and it won’t comprise you by revealing it, tell your customers as it will provide them peace of mind.

7. The order isn’t the end

Make good use of the customer service page to give real, hard information for people who are thinking of placing an order and those who have already placed one. In the first instance, they should be able to get in touch with you and expect a response during a defined period of time. They may want to be able to track their order, make any last minute changes, or issue a full or partial cancellation.

There’s another dimension to the relationship with the customer. Make sure that everyone is encouraged to leave a review. These should be shared with visitors and in the cases where feedback is negative, you should respond to it openly, acknowledge any fault, and make things right quickly. This will help you build trust and loyalty with customers.

Final thoughts

No set of recommendations can ever hope to be definitive, and there’s always going to be a company like Amazon or Google that makes a fortune by ignoring convention. But while Krieger may not be a Jeff Bezos or a Sergey Brin, when he combines respect for the rules with imaginative flair, he succeeds in creating some truly innovative stuff. And you can do the same with your website – just don’t build it too far from the user.

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