Who Moved My Signage? A UX Tail?

About 15 years ago, this book became really popular. It was called Who Moved My Cheese, and was all about the virtues of “going with the flow” in a chaotic corporate environment. The book teaches you ways to be flexible, relevant and be “okay” with change. In order to grow mentally, everyone should always be learning and forcing themselves to adapt. The online user is coming along, but you still have to be careful in just how quickly you make them adapt. So this cheese theory is great, but when it comes to everyday UX, remaining calm can come into question. That is, once you decide to “Move the Cheese”.

As for me I’m all for remaining chill when it comes to shifting cheese around, but this philosophy does not always apply to your customer. As a UX designer, I will always caution against moving their cheese (at least moving it too far). Unless your business model is some kind of cat-and-mouse game where you want to keep them running in circles. Which would be weird, but could possibly make for a good video game.

Once again, I’d like to use a real-life example to demonstrate how USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN IS EVERYWHERE. (I put that in caps because it’s a VERY IMPORTANT THING.) Your business relies on user experience to succeed. At all times. Where you put your customer’s “cheese” will determine whether or not this person 1.) makes a purchase and/or 2.) becomes a repeat buyer/visitor.

Let’s say I walk into Home Depot, or Lowe’s, or a big hardware store. This is actually a true story, by the way. I’m a designer and I often leverage my UX skills for home improvement. In this particular case, let’s say I’ve ordered something and need to pick it up at the store.

I walk in, and I see a sign for “Customer Service” (that is one big slice of cheddar cheese) in front of me. “Customer Service” logically seems like a safe blanket statement for all things related to me, the customer. There’s a rectangular island, with two sides facing outward to the store, each with a couple of lines. Again, I scan the signage above and below my head to make sure I am in the right place, there’s nothing specific, so I feel satisfied with my quick decision. So, I wait in the closest line, because it’s short and I’m in a hurry. When I get up to the front, I say I’m here to pick up an order. I am not fumbling for my ticket, or order number, I am prepared. The look on the teller's face tells me that they do not carry the right answer. I can only imagine what my east coast roots and facial expressions look like as my pulse rate rises. There is no dilly-dallying on the east coast, but that is not the case in the mid-west.

“I’m sorry,” says the sales associate. “This line is for returns only. You’ll have to go stand over there.” She points to the other side of the island, which is very crowded and not labeled. So even though I was truly prepared, they were not. They were not prepared to give me my order, & they were not prepared to help me no matter what. They scooted me along to the next isle.

Are you scooting your customers to the next website? Are you as prepared as your customer so you can give them what they need? Are you ready to make that sale, or are you losing half of your customers? How many customers do you turn away due to a poorly thought-out User Experience?

So, back to me...I’ve only been in the store 15 minutes and I’m pissed.

After standing in the new “correct” line for about 20 more minutes, I finally secure my purchase and haul it out to my vehicle. PLUS, no one offered to carry out this huge purchase for me, and I am all of 4 ft & 11.5 inches. Double whammy! Also, now I’m running late to pick up my kids. Why was I made to wait in line unnecessarily, simply because the store had poor signage? Am I going to go to a different store next time I need something like this? I mean, would it have taken much effort to label one side of the Customer Service desk as “Returns Only?” 

This would have taken consideration for user experience. As a business owner, you need to ask yourself, “What kind of cheese would you want, and where do you want it to be ... if you were your own customer?”. So grab that mouse by the tail, and follow it. Be one with your mouse. We need them to feel as if they were born with the cheese, because that is how easy it was to get the cheese.

I think I am getting a little too cheesy.

Obviously, you don’t want anyone to feel frustrated with your product or service. Signage may seem like a small thing. In fact, it’s probably quite easy to forget--unless you understand how important UX really is, and USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN (or lack there of) IS EVERYWHERE.

When I design anything, I make sure the “signage” is present and easy to read. Navigation is intuitive. Copy is clear. Interface is clean and simple. Nobody is wasting time with unnecessary clicks. And I ask the customers where they want the cheese, and we decide what kind of cheese is best for the larger 80% of your customer base. BTW, there is always going to be that 20% who prefer blue cheese (you can’t change that, & they want steak with it too).

In other words, I make sure you don’t frustrate the majority of your customers. And that’s always a good policy, 80/20. Keep the directional signage pointing straight to the cheese, and don’t move it before they arrive, because once they reach for it, BAM! … you’ve trapped that mouse with your great customer service. You have ensnared their business forever, and that sounds like a nice piece of fancy cheese to me.


Beth Moore began designing websites and creating user expereinces before they were cool. She became Creative Director for an interactive agency at age 22, and has managed multiple facets of the development + design + user experience process. Beth is President and Founder of Street UX Design House, a full-service online product development shop, web design & marketing house for the digital age. Learn more at www.streetux.com.