It’s 2018 and, this year, website User Experience (UX) will factor prominently in many business’ marketing budgets. And there’s a reason: why invest in driving more traffic to your website, when you can optimise your website and your product/service, therefore providing an optimum experience for your customers? In other words, rather than focussing on getting more traffic, business can instead make better use of the traffic they already receive.
I genuinely believe that 2018 will be the year that sees consumers become even fussier when it comes to the websites they opt to use. If a website provides a poor user experience early on in the buying process, then the consumer will simply abandon the site never to be seen again. A wasted opportunity and, by extension, wasted bucks. I think many businesses with outdated websites and no interest in UX or Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) will most likely see their conversion rates drop considerably by the tail-end of 2018.
And Then There’s Google’s Approach to UX…
Which brings me to my next point. Firstly, fret not – I am not about to throw insults to the biggest search engine on the planet – I love those guys, really I do. To begin with I want to very quickly introduce you to Google’s recommended approach to UX design, which is based on the Double Diamond approach. The basic premise of the DD approach is as follows:
To paraphrase Google, the DD approach aims to “understand an idea through research and then converge to define the challenge, diverge to sketch it individually, share the ideas, decide on what is the best way forward, test and then validate.”
Basically, Google recommends an approach to UX design – or more specifically CRO/Conversion Rate Optimisation – in which you first discover what the underlying problem or need is, examine that problem in more detail to come up with solutions, then develop a solution to the problem before rolling out the update on your website. For those interested, this page published by Google discusses the DD method in more detail.
So, Google is well aware of the importance of good UX design. And it really wants to impress this on website owners, hence its ongoing push for mobile friendliness, which saw many businesses invest a lot of money into making their website responsive over the past few years. For the right reasons too, I hasten to add. In fact, it’s actually rumoured that a user’s experience of a web page is a key factor in Google’s search algorithm: poor user experience/high frustration may push websites further down the search results, in favour of websites exhibiting more positive browsing signals. So, even if businesses don’t really care about their customers’ user experience, they will at least care about their search rankings. UX design WILL be a key area of 2018. Google will make it so.
So Why Are Google’s Latest Interfaces So Poorly Designed for UX?
Yep, this is the part where I rant. You see, Google have updated some of its core interfaces recently. When Google rolls out such updates, normally I’m excited about all the new bells and whistles that each update will bring with it. But last year I found myself becoming more and more exasperated, as best practice UX was ignored in favour of what I can only describe as an attempt to create style over substance.
A very basic UX design rule states that a user must always subconsciously know what a website’s icons represent and the expected result of clicking on them. Basic web design, surely? But, believe it or not, this is something that Google has managed to get consistently wrong in the past twelve months within its core services. Even myself, a marketer who has worked closely on CRO projects in the past, finds Google’s choice of design in their products totally vexing.
Merchant Centre V2 – Poor UX
I will start with the Google Merchant Centre which, prior to the 2017 update, used to be pretty straightforward for PPC advertisers. I’ll use the example of fetching the product feed – a pretty rudimentary requirement for updating your shopping data. In the original Merchant Centre design, you would simply drill down into the feed you wanted to refresh and click on – that’s right – the Fetch Feed link.
Before I succumbed to Googling the answer, here is the exact approach I took when attempting to figure out for myself how to fetch the feed.
First, I looked within the Processing screen, given that fetching a feed is a form of processing – seems logical. Alas, it was not there so I turned my attention to the Settings tab – not there either! I was getting desperate at this point, so I even examined the Rules tab and, as expected, it was not there either. At this point I was left wondering if it is even possible to fetch the feed anymore. What do I do?!
Well, it turns out that you can fetch the feed, but you have to click on three barely visible dots in the far-right side of the screen, and then select the Fetch Feed option.
Do you see those three little dots? Look carefully on the right-hand side. If I were to see this in a more positive light, at least now I know what those three dots mean – extra options. And they can be dotted around (no pun intended) in various locations to discover more options/functions. Got it! It’s a bit of an odd variation of the burger icon, which you’d normally see in the top-corner of a screen but, okay – fair enough.
In fact, it turns out that all of my Google UX failures relate to nonsensical icons that are located in weird locations. I’ll move on with what I feel is the most frustrating of all.
Gmail Mobile – Poor UX
I like using Gmail, but I struggle to understand the main icons on the mobile version because, as with the above example, half of them are nonsensical. Let’s check out the icons:
One thing I do each evening is check my work-related emails in case anything urgent has come up of which I should be aware. I then mark those emails as unread if they are not urgent so that I know to look at them and respond to them in the morning.
Let’s examine the Gmail icons carefully. The bin icon is clear and makes sense – that’ll delete my email – I don’t want to do that. But which of these crazy icons is the Mark As Unread icon? Ooh look – the burger icon. Let’s press that! Erm, no – no Mark As Unread option there.
Well, the icon on the far left seems to indicate some kind of mail undo function, so it must be that.
D’oh! Clicking on that icon archives my email, making it difficult for me to revert the email back into my inbox. I have a poor memory as it is, but when one has to learn through trial and error what the icons mean, already there’s a UX issue that needs resolving. It turns out that the picture of the envelope is the Mark As Unread icon (I would have assumed it meant Compose Mail, but there you go).
Latest Adwords Experience – Poor UX
I’m not a fan of the new Adwords experience. Whilst I appreciate a rebranding was likely in order, a lot of the intuitive elements of Adwords have been removed, this time for style of substance. In my opinion, when a PPC expert struggles to navigate their way around a system, you know the UX approach has failed.
Rather than focus on everything that is wrong with the layout and design of the new Adwords interface, I’ll instead focus on a related bugbear. Yep, more nonsensical icons.
I already recognise two of these icons: download and, of course, my recently discovered burger icon (Google’s new penchant for More Options).
But what of the first three? What do they actually mean? In short, as with the previous two examples I’ve already discussed, until you click on them it’s impossible to say.
Let’s list what they really mean:
Until I clicked on each of these icons for the first time, I had absolutely no idea what any of them meant, despite having over six years of Adwords experience under my belt. This is yet another case of Google introducing strange icons, only for its users resorting to a trial-and-error approach simply to understand what will happen when the icon is clicked.
Let’s compare those three icons to the ones utilised in the previous version of Adwords, which were displayed as follows:
I don’t know about you, but I find the original icons much clearer to understand.
Update: thankfully you can now hover your mouse over the icons, and Google displays a label to tell you what each one means. This is at least something! Still, Google still seems to be opting for icons with little to no meaning. I get the feeling that Google wants to educate us on its new icon setup, perhaps hoping that its new icon set will pave the way for a new, universal understanding of their meaning. This is dangerous UX in my opinion. But hey – at least you can hover your mouse over them now.
Google UX In Summary…
I would like to quote this excellently-written article which perfectly sums up the importance of a website or interface using well-designed icons:
“…icons can cause usability problems when designers hide functionality behind icons that are hard to recognize. An icon’s first job is to guide users to where they need to go”.
I hope that Google listens to all of the user feedback it has undoubtedly received following the latest updates to its core services. Google provides by far the best marketing tools but, if I were to coin an oft-used UX phrase: there’s always room for improvement.