Interview: UX guru Andy Budd on why most websites are ‘leaking buckets’

User Experience (UX) guru, Andy Budd, says most of today’s websites remind him of “leaking buckets”. UX, he says, can plug these leaks to “catch people and keep them there”. So using a UX designer is a small investment which could result in profit of millions. It’s what supermarkets do so well and why they have an almost 100% conversion rate with customers. Budd says it’s because designers guide users through the experience of a supermarket. stole a few moments with the British-based UX designer to find out more about why UX is important and to find out the ingredients on start-up success. Budd is the user experience leader at Clearleft, as well as a regular international speaker at events such as SXSW and Web Design World and he also runs the annual dConstruct conference, which takes place in Brighton, England.

MB: What are the major trends you are seeing in your industry?
AB: UX is a major force at the moment, particularly in the UK. Companies are increasingly realising that the web is their business. Companies invest so much in their physical properties, now they see they need to do the same online as it’s a major source of revenue.

When I think of many of the larger websites today, they remind me of a leaking bucket that you keep filling up from a tap. You keep putting more and more water in and it doesn’t matter that a lot of the water leaks out. Which is fine when you have lots of water, or in terms of business, lots of money.

But in times of recession, there is less money and therefore less water in the bucket, and you have to work harder at plugging the leaks. UX can plug the gaps and leaks, it can catch people and keep them there.

There is a reason why supermarkets have an almost 100% conversion rate with customers. It’s because designers guide the users through the experience of a supermarket. Online conversion rate is not nearly the same – it’s more like three or four percent, which means that an average of 96 percent of customers leave the site unsatisfied. What UX can help you do is try to convert another two or three percent, which can make a big difference to the bottom line of a company.

MB: If I’m starting a new online venture, a UX designer is a luxury I can’t afford, right?
AB: (laughs) No, it is not exactly a luxury. Of course you can get lucky without significant UX.  If you’re a new business and you are unique in that field, you can make big improvements without having a UX designer. But as a field gets more and more competitive, the differences tend to normalise. What makes all the difference is the luxury you give to your customers, and that’s where UX comes in.

Back in the 1950s there was no design strategy or anything. Everything was the same and consumers ended up having a generic experience. Now, customer service can totally change the impact of a business and whether it’s a success or not.

Coming to a UX designer is a small investment which could result in millions of pounds of profit. Within the first month or two our clients usually show improved returns of around 30 percent.

MB: What will the industry look like in 10 year’s time?
AB: There are still lots of sites that are really badly designed. Smart businessmen who see the potential of the web will fix it from the start. I still see huge problems with checkout and registration in particular.

Companies making money at the moment have invested in their products. They are using analytics, studying emotional attachment and game-like playful behaviour. They understand how to get people into it and invested. Companies like Gowalla and Foursquare are making use of people’s playful natures to get them involved.

In the future it’s only going to get more sophisticated, and work at a more emotional level. There are interesting developments which are starting in the gaming industry where they are looking at neuroscience and engagement levels. The bigger players are using that information already and we can expect a lot more of that.

MB: Are there any social media tools that you despise?
AB: We are not a social media company, but we use them all. Personally, I’m lukewarm on Facebook. I think Facebook is clever, in that they are taking tools that exist and packaging them in a one-stop shop. Other experiences all put together in a nice, easy package.

There is a trade-off between the quality and the nature of a dedicated tool. We learn a lot from the techniques of social media and from the social interaction that the tools can enable. Social psychology we draw upon. The fact that people are influenced by their peers. User-generated reviews, loss aversion, crowd purchasing… all of these concepts have come through via social networking and help us to build products that really work.

MB: You’ve done some very popular presentations about persuasive design: encouraging users to do what you want them to. Isn’t persuasive design just good old fashioned manipulative sales tactics?
AB: No. I believe it’s morally neutral. Of course it can be used positively or negatively. In the marketing world it is perhaps more manipulative. But subtle persuasive design can be very powerful. For example, we significantly changed the number of people who become organ donors on a particular website just by making it opt-out rather than opt-in. It was an architectural decision that nudged people in one direction or another.

MB: What is the most fulfilling project you have worked on?
AB: Always the project we’re currently working on is the most fulfilling. The Channel 4 news website was full of beautiful challenges. We had clients who really bought into the process.

MB: What has been the highlight of your career?
AB: There are so many highlights. I’m hugely proud of the team here at Clearleft. I’m also proud of the dConstruct conference which we run annually. This year we sold out with 750 tickets in a week.

MB: Why are you attending the Tech4Africa conference?
AB: I’ve known Gareth Knight (Tech4Africa founder) for a while and he invited me. We met at SXSW. There is a transformative power that these events can have. They really bring people together and the passion is amazing. Personally, I love supporting countries that are doing this stuff. It empowers the industry.

There are some amazing people here in South Africa, and it’s a region that has a lot of growth and power. I’m also excited about mentoring at Seedcamp as well, which is happening the day after the conference.

MB: What would you most like Tech4Africa attendees to take away from your talk?
AB: The idea that UX is not a cost to control. The idea that UX is an investment in your product, and if done well it can produce massive returns and distinguishing business.

MB: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing African tech growth?
AB: I’m really just coming out to experience the scene because I’m not totally familiar with the African industry. But I do see a number of benefits that work in your favour. The time zone is such a good thing and brings a unique ability to work with Europeans. There is a high standard of education and people speak English as well.

Above and beyond that, South Africans have a very entrepreneurial spirit that can be tapped and a lot of success can be attributed to character. Europe is more stuffy than South Africa. You have to be large and established to succeed in the UK. In USA people don’t care if you’re huge or small, it’s about your ability to develop.

The thing that I see about South Africans is that they are legendary travelers, a bit like the Antipodeans.  They come to the UK and get really good at what they do. Then they take their ideas back home and create successful companies.

MB: What advice would you give to a tech start-up trying to get a great idea off the ground?
AB: Don’t be precious. Too often, people value idea over implementation. Don’t be a person who says ‘I had that idea years ago’, and leave it at that. Just do it and do it well.

To be a success you have to be a great promoter, marketer — you have to be convincing. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Too often I see one great idea which turns into 10, which turns into 100 and then you get bogged down in the details.

My advice is to release early, and often. If you try and get something fully featured, it’ll be buggy and break. Instead, launch the smallest business set you can, then constantly iterate, add features, develop it over time, find something people want and make sure you have a good story.

  • Andy Budd is one of the keynote speakers at next month’s Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.