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Ask the Expert—Design Bullseye

We talk design methodology and user testing with James Archer & Stephanie Haworth.  Listen to learn how to ensure your product and marketing are working how you want them to.  

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Dusey Van Dusen: Hello Listeners. This is Dusey Van Dusen and the producer of the small business success podcast. And welcome to another week, another episode from us. We are joined today by special guest, James Archer, our director of product design here at Infusionsoft. How's it going, James?

James Archer: Good. How are you doing Dusey?

Dusey Van Dusen: Doing very good. We're also joined by Stephanie Hayworth, our design manager.

Stephanie : [00:00:30] Hello.

Dusey Van Dusen: Hello, hello. Welcome both of you newbies to the small business success podcast, right?

Stephanie : Glad to be here.

Dusey Van Dusen: Fantastic. So, Today we brought in some designers because we want to talk a little bit about how small businesses can think about design. You know, small businesses might be in a lot of different stages of ... maybe the owner themselves is having to do the design, maybe they've hired one person, maybe they're outsourcing their design to someone else. So, There's a lot of different places they could be in. I just want to start off kind of talking about how a small business owner should start thinking about design, whether they're doing it [00:01:00] themselves, or they're looking at getting some help in doing it.

James Archer: Yeah. It's a super important topic. A lot of people don't realized just how much an impact design has on their business. And they'll put together some obligatory materials and throw something out there, and it could be killing their business, it could be helping their business, and they don't actually know.

Dusey Van Dusen: Absolutely. So when somebody thinks about design, like maybe, for some people, the first thing they think about might be like, you know, doing some sort of page layout or like ... what would each of you, kind of, define as design? [00:01:30] How would a small business kind of think of all the different aspects of their business that might be impacted by this?

Stephanie : Yeah. So design, you need to think about it more from a customer experience perspective. It's about the entire journey from, you know, handshake to closing the deal and onward. It's also past the sale, and it's into this ongoing, long-term relationship to make your customers into brand ambassadors. So design is this essential tool, and it's also a way to [00:02:00] expand your brand equity and turn customers into true ambassadors who are going to bring their friends along with them.

James Archer: Yeah, that's absolutely right. I mean, design ... Because humans are visual creatures, we tend to associate design with just the visual component of it. But, really it's an experiential thing. And so we're trying to look at all the aspects of what a potential customer, or lead, or, you know, whoever it is that's participating in the process, what they're experiencing and how they're feeling about that process, because that can steer the decision that they ultimately [00:02:30] make.

Dusey Van Dusen: Absolutely. So, where would you start with somebody saying, "Man, you know, I've got a basic website up", but, you know, they maybe didn't put too much thought into it, and they're starting to think about starting to put more design thought into their business? Where do you start?

Stephanie : Better start testing. Start asking your customers. Maybe send out surveys and start to see where their pain points within your website, or within their communications with you. [00:03:00] You know, tag your blog posts to see if they're being helpful to people. You know, when you send out your emails to send people to your website, make sure you tag those links and that you're understanding what is actually speaking to customers. Is it the hero header of the email and that design is working really well for you, and it's sending people through? Or is it the words you're using?

James Archer: And, the other thing to keep in mind is, a lot of times for design, you really to do a little bit of introspection in the beginning, and ask yourself, "What [00:03:30] are we actually trying to do here?". There are a lot of companies that have a website, but don't know what they're doing with their website. They don't know what the outcome they're going for is. Someone told them they have to have a website, so now they have a website.

Same with marketing materials, same with social media, same with any of those things. They do them, but they don't really know what they're shooting for. So, they can't tell if it's working, or not. So, it's important to, kind of, just ask yourself, "What am I hoping to have come out of this?", and then, "What steps can I take to make those things happen?".

Stephanie : Right. Because, if you build a website and you have an event calendar on there, and [00:04:00] there's no real reason to have it, it's not driving customers to you, it's not helping your brand, then what's the point of putting the effort into it, and upkeep, you know?

James Archer: Awesome. It sounds like ... I'm starting to put together in my mind, kind of a path of, like, somebody saying, "I'm thinking about hiring a designer", but it's really like, let's step back. Before you can design, you have to know what your current stuff is doing. And, in order to know what your current stuff is doing, you need to test it to, kind of, find [00:04:30] out or, I guess ... Maybe the testing would come after knowing what your current stuff is doing. But, in order to know that, you have to have some data. Like you said, tag your links, right? So, you have to have an understanding, and have the data to be able to get that understanding--

Stephanie : Yeah. You have to make sure that you're staying on top of your analytics boards. You're looking at your Google analytics. You need to be making sure that what you're doing is, or isn't, working. You have to start actually looking at the hard numbers and then, also, send out surveys and get qualitative feedback. And you can even look at, you know, what about the [00:05:00] customers you haven't even gone after. Or the customers you've lost in the last couple of years.

I've worked with businesses that have actually surveyed and interviewed business that they've lost, and learned some really valuable things.

Dusey Van Dusen: Very cool.

James Archer: Yeah. It's absolutely true. I mean, so much of the design process comes down to figuring out what the reality is, and then what you want it to be. And then, you're just bridging the gap between the two.

Dusey Van Dusen: Okay. So, Where would you say ... Somebody that's never done any sort of design tests, whether it's on their [00:05:30] website, or their product, whether it's the e-commerce portion of their website, where would you advise them to get started? Like, what kind of tests can you do?

Stephanie : Yeah. I mean, there are lots of options. One thing that a lot of companies find really useful is signing up for a user testing service. There are websites out there, like usertesting.com, and other places, where ... And actually find real people who fit what you believe to be your demographic, and [00:06:00] you can actually run them through. "Hey, try to sign up for this event", or "try to buy this item on my website", and actually see if they're able to break through and finish the task. Or you actually get videos that show them saying, "Oh my gosh. I have no idea where to find this on your website".

James Archer: Yeah. And that, I think, really speaks to thinking about that whole journey. Because you'll find out, maybe the copy was misleading, or they didn't understand the copy, or maybe it was, [00:06:30] you know, more of the visual design that they literally couldn't see what they were trying to go for--

Stephanie : Right. Design is so multifaceted, that it could be anything from the color of a button, to the hierarchy of a mega menu on your navigation, to the layout of the page and the user flow, itself.

Dusey Van Dusen: So, Lets ... I want to, kind of, keep diving into this idea of testing. I think this is really fascinating and it's something that, when a small business owner [inaudible 00:06:58] a million miles an hour, [00:07:00] might not be on the forefront of their mind. So, Maybe you guys could talk just a little bit about methodology of, you know, maybe they've run through something like this. They have some ideas now, of where they think they can start to improve their design. What's next?

James Archer: So, The approach that we take here, with the products that we're working on designing and building, is ... I mean, we're running a million miles an hour. We totally understand. We're feeling that too. And there's so much to do, that, sometimes, it's hard to say, "Let's [00:07:30] just stop and test, and see if this is working". And that's, a lot of times, the thing that just gets pulled out of the process. When, really, that's kind of the central piece of the process. That informs what we do next.

So, We've made a very intentional effort. We actually carve out one day a week to spend, you know, the majority of that day just on testing, and putting things in front of customers and seeing what happens. And, the important thing about testing, is ... So, we'll bring in live users, and it's very tempting for us to lead that conversation. I mean, we put so much work [00:08:00] into this, that we want them to love it. And we want to tell them all the ways in which they should love it--

Stephanie : Don't you see, the buttons right there!

James Archer: I know. Exactly. So, one of the disciplines that we have to have, from a testing perspective is ... You know, we'll put someone in front of it, we'll introduce it, we'll kind of explain how the process works. And then, we'll just sort of sit back and quietly watch, and it's nerve-wracking. And it's so frustrating. And there's so many times we want to just direct them and help them see something that they're not seeing. But, them not seeing it, is the information that we needed to know. Because, [00:08:30] when they're out there in the wild, and someone's coming across our site and we're not watching them, they're not going to see the thing we put out in front of them so--

Stephanie : Another really important thing to think about is the temperament of the people that you're testing. People using your website, or interacting with your App, are not always going to be in the perfect 100% chipper mood that the people you're testing with on your team might be in. And, also, your audience, you need to keep in mind. If your main audience is, perhaps, and older generation with accessibility [00:09:00] issues, with vision, you need to make sure you're testing with the right audience that reflects your true audience, not just the testers you have on hand.

James Archer: Right. It's super important. Especially for business owners. A lot of times, you know, when a business owner gets into a certain industry, it's because they know that industry really well. They know the people in that industry. But there is a difference between "I know the customers" and "I am my customers". And, it's a fallacy to say, "Well, I know my customers really well, so I know how they'd respond to this". And, I can tell you, I've seen it over [00:09:30] and over again. We don't know how they respond until we actually put them in front of the thing and watch them do it.

So, in order to do that kind of user research, you sort of have to get into the mindset of "I might not know everything about this, and that's okay because I'm going to find out". But, if you can't get there, the testing will never quite work.

Stephanie : Right. And, a lot of companies, they'll work with a consultant potentially, who builds them, say, a brand persona. And they'll say, "Oh, this brand persona will react in this way to these things that you create for [00:10:00] them". You're not really going to be sure unless you're testing that, and you're verifying that, and validating it.

Dusey Van Dusen: Yeah. I feel like, if there's a theme to this podcast, that has been: Know your customer. I feel like every expert I bring in from every field is talking about making sure that you, not only know your customer ... But I love this kind of taking it a step further of, like, just because you know your customer, doesn't mean that you are your customer. I love that sentiment.

So, actually sitting down with them. With the real deal. And having them walk through something, and getting their feedback [00:10:30] on it. That just seems invaluable.

Stephanie : There's no substitute for reality.

Dusey Van Dusen: So, I've got a question for both of you. So, This idea of testing. I love it because you are going out, and you're getting your own data, and your own experience for your field, and for your business. And, I'm curious what you think about spending time, you know, whether it's learning about design, like going online and finding articles that say, "Hey, this is how you should set [00:11:00] up your website, or your product, or your e-commerce". How much of a role, where would you put that line, or what do you think about that role of learning expertise about it and implementing that, compared to testing and kind of finding out for yourself?

James Archer: That's a great question. So, I've really come to see design as being much more about process, than about a body of knowledge. And the great designers I've seen are the ones who embrace, and understand, and internalize that process. Not necessarily the ones who have crammed the most [00:11:30] information about design into their heads.

So, it is useful to read the studies on what works and what doesn't work, and how to optimize, and what kind of design conventions are working best, and what aren't. But, ultimately, the reason that those work well, is that they give us a lot of anecdotal information that helps us feel out the right answers. Not necessarily because they're going to be the right answers for us. So, It helps us understand the patterns that are available and the ways that we can do things.

So, It's good to study that stuff. But, really, to embrace [00:12:00] design, you just kind of learn about the process of design. The way you think. The way you approach problems. The way you solve problems. And, those are applicable across any situation, even if you don't have those standards in place--

Stephanie : Right. And you have to be willing to, you know, get dirty with it a little bit. Get dirty with the design. When I say that, it's like, you get in there with rough sketches and start getting questions answered early on. And don't wait to get your design fully fleshed out. Because [00:12:30] the thing that you've spent all that time working on, may not work. So, you have to be okay with showing your work and being really rough with what your designing. Even building little paper prototypes. If you're not a designer, it's perfectly okay to just make things a little dirty and build it just so that it works enough to try to validate your ideas with real customers.

Dusey Van Dusen: So, that leads me to my next question, which is: How long should it take for a small business owner to, [00:13:00] like, get a test up and running? And how long should they leave it running?

James Archer: The testing should never stop. You know, design is fundamentally a cyclical process. And, one of the great mistakes people get into is thinking, "Okay, I'm done. I designed this thing. It's out. It's done." And it's never done. You should always be kind of tweaking, and improving, and testing. And, you know, if a new customer comes in and they found you through your website, first question I would ask is, "Hey, what did you think of the website? What was your impression? What did you learn from it? [00:13:30] What questions did you still have?". Even something as simple as that, is a kind of user testing that you can always be doing.

Stephanie : Yeah. It's never set it and forget it. Because your customers are growing at their own rate, in their own ways. And, if your small business isn't keeping up with your customer, then you're going to miss them.

Dusey Van Dusen: Fantastic. Well, any final thoughts on this testing? Any final piece of advice? If there's one thing that you could let our listeners out there know about design and testing, what would it be?

James Archer: I would say don't feel like you have to over-complicate [00:14:00] it. Testing can be very simple. Just talk to people, get their feedback, and let them tell you what they really think.

Stephanie : Yeah, I would say empathize with your customer. If they're talking about a problem that they're encountering, don't say, "Oh, that's not a problem of everybody, so I'm just not going to worry about it". Because, sometimes, those fringe issues or stressors, they're things that are going to help your entire customer base.

Dusey Van Dusen: So, in the vein of testing that we've been talking about today, we have a tool of available for all of [00:14:30] our listeners. You can go to bit.ly/campaign testing to get our campaign performance tool. And that is a tool that will walk you through some tracking and some ways to start thinking about your testing. It's got a focus on email and email design. It can easily be applied to all sorts of areas. So, you can go check out that campaign performance tool to kick-start your testing at bit.ly/campaign testing.

And a quick note to our listeners. If you like free stuff, and I'm guessing that you do, if you're trying to boot strap your own business, then [00:15:00] you should get you free trial of Infusionsoft. You can use our CRM email marketing and campaign tools, and get coaching for two weeks without spending a dime. I recommend it if you've been thinking about how to organize your sales and marketing, but aren't sure you are ready to take the plunge. You'll quickly see the value that you can get out of our all-in-one platform. Just go to bit.ly/sbsfreetrial to sign up. That's bit.ly/sbsfreetrial. That's another great way to start, you know, keeping track of your customers and campaigns as you dive [00:15:30] into this idea of testing and improving your website, or just your overall experience for your customers and your prospects.

Also, we have a ton of great information in our show notes at smallbusinesssuccess.com. We have articles about how to do A/B split tests, testing guides for your e-commerce sites, email testing. We have all sorts of great information there, as well as links to all of the resources that we've mentioned already. So, go check out smallbusinesssuccess.com [00:16:00] to get the show notes with all that great information for all of you.

So, thank you James for joining us. Thank you Stephanie for joining us.

Stephanie : Thank you.

James Archer: Thank you.

Dusey Van Dusen: And we will see you all, or hear you all, or you'll hear us, in another episode next week of the Small Business Success Podcast.

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