Tag Archives: alerts

Alerts From Your Cigarette Lighter

A friend of mine is the chief of staff at a hospital, and the other night he and I discussed his new smartphone at a dinner party. He was not happy with his new device. It was packed with bloatware and useless features, and turning off all of those extra apps and notifications was frustratingly complicated.

The folks who made his smartphone sold him a device that did everything, but all he wanted was a phone that did certain things. The trick is to develop your technology so that it is easy to use what you want and ignore what you don’t.

I’m old enough to remember when cars had cigarette lighters in them instead of “auxiliary power outlets” (my first car was a hand-me-down from my sister, a two-tone brown, four-door 1970 Ford Maverick). It was an optional technology for smokers. Those of us who didn’t smoke simply ignored it.

Now imagine if that cigarette lighter included a voice synthesizer, and its default setting was to use alerts to constantly remind you that it existed: “Don’t forget about me, the cigarette lighter! I’m still here! You sure you don’t want to smoke? Maybe just light something on fire?” That’s how all of the superfluous apps were acting on my friend’s new phone. They were getting in the way of what he really wanted to do.

Through the years, we’ve had several projects here at {code} Roadies where the client has insisted on stacking more and more onto the home page of their website, ignoring our pleas: links, videos, animation, drop downs, the list goes on and on. They want to make sure that visitors find everything on their site immediately. Unfortunately, packing that much content and functionality onto a home page – especially now that we rely so much on the mobile web – actually makes it harder for a user to find what they really want.

Don’t overload visitors! Your site is there to support your team of human beings, not replace them. Use your website to answer the top 10 or 15 questions your customers might ask, but leave the solutions to questions 16-100 up to your technical support pages or your customer service team. If everybody asks the same few questions (and they always do), then why make them slog through a hundred less popular queries to find the answers?

First, think about simplicity. Then think about hierarchy. Get both of them right, and you will significantly improve your usability. Ever know that guy who actually answers the rhetorical question “how are you?” with a seven-minute presentation about their coworker who eats Funyuns at 9am? It’s a lot of information that you weren’t really looking for. Show them the facts they need, then ask them if they have any more questions. Simple. Elegant. Effective.

Does your site hit users with info overload? Organize it, edit it and simplify it. For a busy user going online to solve a common issue or to find your most popular product, less is often a lot more.