Sep 17 2009

Your first 30 seconds

I receive a large number of “check out my new cool bright shiny web thing” emails. I’m amazed at how crappy the user experience is on many of these new tools. Sure – if I spent 20 minutes setting it up and clicking through a bunch of different layers of the application I might find out how great it is, but honestly, if the site doesn’t grab me in the first 30 to 60 seconds I typically close the browser tab and move on.

I understand that it’s a challenge for application designers to figure out how to move a user through their system and many designers have a big vision about what their app can do. But often what’s lost is basic design and a logical progression. Many of these apps lack basic user experience common sense.

Below are a few thoughts on how to accomplish a strong first impression:

  • My username should be my email. I have too many usernames as it is and unless I’m transacting financial information I want my log-in to be relatively basic. Plus you can likely pre-populate this if you’re using an invite code or something similar and already know my email address.
  • Don’t force me to use a funky password (symbols, etc.) – again, too much work unless you’re collecting secure information from me (in which case I probably won’t sign up in the first place….).
  • The sign/up should gather the absolute minimum information acceptable – don’t collect more than you need and lose users interest in the process.
  • Once I do the sign-up I should be in the app – please don’t take me back to the sign-up page and make me fill in the information I just gave you.
  • The first time I log into an app I should be taken to some kind of set-up wizard that helps me get started. Don’t dump me into some dashboard and force me to figure out what to do to get started.
  • Leverage existing sing-up infrastructure (Google, Facebook, etc).
  • Let me put in an amount of information that’s comfortable to me and then show me how you’re going to make my experience fun/interesting/valuable (for example don’t force me to upload my contact list on my first visit – I’m not going to do it; think incremental information collection for incremental benefit – don’t overreach.
  • Do something useful for me right away. This is the 30 second logic. If what you do is a cool as you think it is, I should get a glimpse of that in the first 30-60 seconds of interacting with your application.
  • Once you have me interested, give me a clear, but relatively unobtrusive nudge to put more information in to take it to the next level
  • If your application is social in nature, give me an easy way to integrate my social graph (twitter, Facebook, etc.) and then show me who else I know is using your service.
  • Your dashboard/home page should be well laid out and everything you can think of should have a link to the next page (don’t force me to use only the top nav bar to get around your site; if you’re showing me a table on the home page, for example, the table headers, cells, etc should be live links to a place to enter more data into the site for example.
  • If you ask users for feedback and they send it to you, be sure to keep them in the loop about what changes you’re making (and acknowledge their email; I can’t tell you the number of times I sent a few ideas to a company who asked me to check out their site never to hear back).

I’d love to hear some more ideas on how to accomplish a good first experience for users. It’s on my mind in particular right now because I feel like in the last month I’ve tried to engage with a large number of new applications that completely failed to capture my attention (one in particular stuck me on a homepage where I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to input the data that the system was supposedly designed to track; I failed completely and haven’t been back).