Are People Getting Stuck in Your GUI?

Bryan Eisenberg

Updated · Jan 02, 2002

My recent article about navigation closed with, “When you make it easy for your visitors to find what they want to buy quickly and intuitively, more of them will convert.” I've never discussed graphical user interface (GUI) much in this space, but it goes hand in hand with navigation.

Follow this analogy, and I'll explain GUI (pronounced “gooey”). Suppose somebody's got a real-world store, and here comes Ms. Customer. She drives up, parks, and eagerly makes her way to the door. She peruses the window display, thinking the place looks great. It's really novel and colorful. But when she grasps the front-door handle, it doesn't work like any other she's used before. She wants to shop at the store, so she fusses over the mechanism and eventually manages to get inside.

Once she's wrestled her way in, she finds no aisles for her to walk through, no overhead signs to locate anything, no helpful (or even rude) information-desk people, no smiling sales staff, not even a visible cashier. From her point of view, there is no rhyme or reason to this store at all. How much do the novelty, graphics, and attractive design matter now? How long will she hang around? How much do you think she's going to spend?

What a way to run a business — build a store that actively discourages shopping! The bozos who thought that place up should be hung out to dry, right? Consider this: In the online world, the functional equivalent of that store is the GUI. When I hear the word, I think of flypaper and how it's hardly something you want your prospects to get stuck on. You don't want your clients fighting with your “store”; you want them to be shopping, not only satisfied but delighted with the way you display your products.

Your GUI has a simple function: It allows visitors to interact, to view your products, make selections, and complete a purchase. Easily. Painlessly. Happily. Effective GUI bridges all the gaps between you and your shoppers by helping them focus on the content of your Web site. Good GUI is seamless, transparent, and entirely unobtrusive. A superb interface will help build good customer experience, reinforce your brand, and increase sales. A bad one will do the opposite.

Bad GUI means ruin. If a user has to puzzle through your high-tech system or obscure processes, she's not shopping. Every time you add another gooey layer, it frustrates her interest and motivation. She's less inclined to “stick” with you. It's easier to find a competitor, just a click away, who puts her interests first.

Too many folks (you know who I mean…) who are responsible for e-commerce design on the Web assume that constructing an interface is nothing more than creating distinctive glamour and eye-catching cleverness. That's a major reason lots of e-businesses fail. One study discovered that users currently spend 1.5 hours of every 5 hours on the Web waiting for pages to download! They spend at least another 10 percent of those 5 hours searching for items on a page and more than 10 percent filling out forms. This adds up to half the actual time spent online. Get real! No shopper will invest that kind of time for an average purchase. Shoppers love to save money, but they love it more when you save them time. Think convenience!

GUI plays a simple role, but designing a simple GUI isn't a simple matter. You need to think about this early in the development process, during the storyboard phase. Many disciplines go into the mix:

  • Information architecture analyzes the kind of information that needs to be communicated and generates logical pathways to form the foundation of the site.
  • Graphic design gives the structure a coherent visual look and feel that fits within the overall brand positioning strategy while striving to enhance usability.
  • Human-factors and usability question accessibility and ease-of-use issues every step of the way. Conduct extensive user testing to weed out potential problems (see “Where Oh Where Did My Eyeballs Go?“).
  • Experience in good, old-fashioned nose-to-nose (N2N) sales, as well as in consumer psychology, marketing, merchandising, color theory, and other issues further refine and improve the effectiveness of the interface.

Lots of work, but a Web business won't function without it. Numerous studies and plenty of dot-bombs prove fancy graphics, audio, 3-D, and too-clever layout features don't make a site sticky. They make it slow, distracting, and confusing. Anything that gets in the way of a quick, easy, safe buying experience turns customers off.

Keep it simple. They'll love you more. Sure, it's tempting to get fancy. But would you rather look good or make the sale?

Bryan Eisenberg is CIO of Future Now Inc. It is the only consultancy focused exclusively on helping clients increase online customer conversion rates, and it understands that conversion is about persuading your customers to take the action you want. You can find Future Now's award-winning newsletter, GrokDotCom, at

Reprinted from ClickZ

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