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Designing the Moment, Five Tips in Five Days, Part 1

By  Jun 9, 2008

Topics: Web Design & Development

Have you ever wondered how the Web teams behind the most popular sites get so many people to sign up for their products and services? After all, there are boatloads of great applications out there. How does someone choose one over another?

Having recently worked through a client project where I had to address this very question, I’ve been thinking a lot about the signup framework—the collection of design elements put in place to entice a user to sign up.

In the moments when a user first experiences a new Web application, it’s vital that they are able to understand the purpose of the application, what they can gain from it, what to expect, whether or not they can trust it, and how long it might take to get up to speed. So, in this series we’ll look at design elements that can help you turn skeptical visitors into avid users.

First, let’s talk about how to answer the most basic question of all: What the heck is this thing?

When we land on an unfamiliar site, this is very often the first thing to run through our minds. We need to know where we are and what we’re looking at. We need to get oriented.

As designers, we often have only a few seconds to make a solid impression on visitors. If we can’t explain what an application does in this time, we risk losing his attention.

Tell ’em what you do

The solution? An elevator pitch. For a really short elevator ride. Perhaps in a building with only two floors.

To quickly explain to a user what your application is about, there’s no better way then to ... well, say it. With words.

Of course, like most things, there’s a catch.

You can’t just toss up a paragraph-long Welcome message and call it a day, because few people read messaging that starts with the word “Welcome”. Instead, you need something short, catchy, and noticeable. You need a simple value proposition.

First, you need to carefully construct a short, concise statement to describe the application. Then you need to stick in in a place where everyone can see it.

Twitter does a great job of this:

With just a short blurb, Twitter communicates what it does and some possible benefits of using the service. And with this text prominently displayed on the homepage, it’s easy to spot, so someone who has never heard of the site, or perhaps doesn’t understand Twitter based on what their friends told them, can quickly get a sense of what’s going on and why she should care.

The only problem I have with this bit of text is that it contains 29 words. This is likely far too many for the average drive-by visitor. The quicker a user can get up to speed, the better.
In this regard, Blinksale does more with less:

In just seven words, Blinksale communicates exactly what it does and what the user can gain from using the application. The words were carefully chosen, and each one serves the larger goal of making sure drive-by visitors can learn about the site as quickly as possible.

The key to all this, as you can see in both examples, is to make sure the value proposition is in plain sight. Burying this incredibly important site description in the header of your design, within a long block of text, or somewhere else, can greatly reduce a user’s ability and desire to notice, read, digest, and act on the information.

Want to know what other elements help convince a user to sign up? Well, too bad. You’ll have to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of the series.

This is Part 1 of a five-day blog series focused on tips based on Robert Hoekman, Jr.’s book, Designing the Moment. In this series, Robert discusses ways to get new users over the crucial hurdle of signing up. Click here to see Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.