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The Influencers

When Being Wrong is So Very Right

INFLUENCER: Shiny's Katy Thorbahn on pushing boundaries and finding the limits of experiences

When Being Wrong is So Very Right

There we were, observing remote user testing, and a prototype we had created for one of our clients was failing. Spectacularly. And repeatedly. 

We have worked with this client, a large financial services institution, for years and have a lot of familiarity with their digital properties and how people use them. One of the insights we’ve heard over the years is that people shopping on their site love the compare functionality. We were working on an overhaul of the entire shopping experience and thought, “People love comparing. Why not make the entire experience about comparing?” Brilliant! It will save people time, get them right to the functionality they use (and always say they want) and no doubt lead to a great increase in conversions. 

Except it didn’t. It had the opposite effect — it frustrated users and made them want to abandon their shopping altogether.

We’ve been at this digital marketing game for quite a few years. We’re used to building things, learning how they perform, and optimizing from there. We read the trades, evaluate other experiences… all the things that help shape our perspective on what is good, effective UX. And with all that knowledge can sneak in a bit of hubris that can lead to the sense that we completely understand what works, and what doesn’t.

This is when your intended audience can quickly humble you and dissuade you of those thoughts.

Back to the user testing. Watching people engage with the prototype, we quickly realised that 'simplifying' the experience and putting people into a comparison mode right away utterly confused them. They didn’t understand they were comparing right from the start partly because they have been taught by countless other sites (our client’s included) that to compare you have to select or choose things to compare and then will be taken to a results page. In our prototype you could simply freeze a product to compare it and then scroll through to see how it stacked up against others. Total confusion and, of the three prototypes we developed, the compare one failed the greatest number of times. 

The moral of the story is that experience matters, and insights from existing performance matter. Both of those things can lead to better, more productive experiences. But all of that needs to be pressure tested with functioning prototypes and actual people using them. It’s not enough to believe it will work... you need to know that it will work before putting it out in the world and be willing to take those learnings to make it even better.

And while it may sound humbling to have an idea fail, we actually love it. It means we’re pushing boundaries and finding the limits of experiences to ultimately ensure that the best solution is what goes out into the world.

Looking to push some boundaries? Let’s chat about how we — and your customers — can help you get to the right experience for your business.



Katy Thorbahn is partner and managing director at Shiny Agency

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