Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ask Users to Help Design Site?

From the mid-nineties, when many of us became active on the web and interested in its marketing uses, the question of successful website user experience has been front and center. It’s hard to do, but a lot of people—think Dr. Jakob Nielsen as well as others—preach website usability. Web marketers make extensive use of metrics to understand what content is most popular on their site.

Both are good things. Designing a site for usability should involve a substantial amount of user research prior to and during the construction of the site. That includes asking people what they expect the content to be on various proposed pages of the site. Note, however, that even the research suggests a pre-conceived idea of site structure. Metrics require a site that is in operation with content available. Baynote provides an interesting example of mining user data to better understand content needs, but it’s still after the fact.

What about asking users for suggestions in the early states—perhaps before you even develop the concept statements and concept pages for your site? When I found the DoubleClick ad in the eMarketer newsletter yesterday, I thought “what an interesting idea. Aren’t there other people doing similar things?”

Not as far as I can see. There was a lot of buzz about the “Chrysler Listens” program earlier in the year, and it’s still on the site. According to the Auburn Hills (Michigan) Globe and Mail they have recruited about 5,000 members to their advisory board and are instituting other “listening” programs. This program appears to be mostly focused on product satisfaction, for obvious reasons. VW has a program called “What the People Want” that focuses on popular culture. To me the whole thing seems a bit lame, but it’s drawing traffic, and I have to admit that I’m probably not in the target audience demographic.

So DoubleClick’s program seems pretty unique. The advertising campaign is based around “Three Questions”—answered by a DoubleClick staffer or an outside expert. The viewer can even volunteer to be the outside expert—interesting touch.
Notice the Help Shape our Site box on the main (landing?) page. When you click through, you get 3 serious questions about what you’d like to find in the new “Nerve Center.” I’m always looking for data about our industry, so I answered the questions and submitted my thoughts. They thanked me politely, but didn’t promise anything specific, which probably makes sense in this situation.

How will they analyze the suggestions they are getting? Some type of content analysis, I imagine. That could be a very interesting foundation for site design—content categories suggested by users.

This will be interesting to watch. It’s also interesting to speculate on the impact of Google’s recent acquisition of DoubleClick on this program. But the key point is that DoubleClick is asking users to help frame their new site, apparently well in advance of actual site development. A really provocative use of the interactivity of the Internet!


Anonymous said...

A smaller, but similar example: the Dutch motoring organisation is celebrating its 125th anniversary. To mark this, it has redesigned its logo. It presented the two final design proposals of the new logo on its site and members were invited to go there and vote (www.anwb.nl/nieuwlogo). Over 10,000 members and 650 employees voted for their favourite. The winner was announced this week.

It's nice to see that organisations are putting the web to such good use by using it to ask their clients/members for input.

MaryLou Roberts said...

That's another nice example, Alisa. It seems to me that getting input in that way engages members and probably creates a stronger bond with the organization. A good thing!