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Best practices

As we saw in Chapter 2, “On Approach,” a good user experience is key to a high-conversion website. Usability or user experience best-practices guidelines are, of course, worth considering as you design interface elements to test against the current ones, but issues arise when best practices are considered no-brainers and implemented without any further thought.

It’s easy to see why this happens. Best practices can become pretty convincing; after all, if everyone else is doing it, it must be good, right? If you’ve read this far, you’ll know it’s probably not that simple. The only way to understand if a best practice was the best design, or just a better design than you had before, is to break it and try something else (Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3 Nick Felton and Joey Flynn, who designed Facebook’s Timeline, realized that when creating a page to tell someone’s life story, they had to throw out the user interface rulebook and start something drastically different.

Make no assumptions. Challenge even the most obvious and convincing best-practices guidelines in your experiments. The staff of the Obama ’08 campaign firmly believed that a video was the right choice for the campaign’s home page, but in testing, a family photo beat it by a large margin (Figure 4.4). Create your own best-practices knowledge about what actually works for your website, and, more importantly, what doesn’t. You can leave that for your competitors to blindly implement on their website.

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 Dan Siroker, director of analytics for the Obama ’08 campaign, challenged the obvious (and most popular amongst the campaign staff) choice of showing a video on the home page with a simple family photo. The photo out-performed the video and the control with a 40.6 percent lift, estimated to be worth $60 million in donations (

37signals founder Jason Fried’s mantra while experimenting is, “Destroy all assumptions.” Fried realized that the company probably didn’t know what works, and to understand that, it would need to test radically different things, and keep iterating and learning (Figure 4.5). It has to be said, not many designers are that open-minded when approaching a design project.

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 37signals challenged the usability best-practices guideline of keeping your content above the page fold with a long-form approach that had many page scrolls. It delivered a 37.5 percent lift in net sign-ups compared to the original.

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