Why UX Should Be As Simple As Skimming Stones

A young child skimming stones at the beach
Photo by Gabrielle Cepella

As a child, I remember trips to the coast and being given lessons in how to select the perfect stone for skimming. The joy in finding that smooth, impeccably shaped stone and then seeing it skip across the top of the surf and the competition among siblings and friends of how many skims. Hours of fun.

Fast forward many years and in a professional capacity yesterday we were discussing the importance of simplicity when it came to online UX (user experience for the uninitiated).

In previous jobs, I’ve debated with colleagues the efficacy and effectiveness of advertising in delivering a direct response or outcome. They argued that the advertising was inept if it couldn’t entice a user to click through to the website and then achieve the desired response.

They placed complete campaign accountability to the advertising and ignored the other side of the coin; the website and UX. The reality was that no matter how bold, engaging, and scroll-stopping the adverts were, they couldn’t compensate for a useless website.

I can liken it back to the stone skimming. Instead of that effortless user experience of the stone skimming beautifully across the water, it drops dead on the first contact. Similarly, if you tried too hard to get the perfect skim it would often fail.

Often the biggest barrier for a user is that the experience has been overcomplicated.

How many times have you been teased with greatness and then it never materialized after the click? Too often, and yet because it has become somewhat ubiquitous with our overall online experience we probably don’t even bat an eyelid and we just leave.

I decided to conduct a quick experiment this morning by looking deeper into the next couple of ads I am served across different environments.

In the spirit of simplicity, my judgement criteria will be the following:

  • Does the ad deliver a clear message in an engaging way?
  • Is the CTA aligned with content on the other end?
  • Will I naturally go beyond the initial landing page?

Advert One on LinkedIn

Amazon ad served on LinkedIn 11.06.21

A short video introducing me to Brittany who is tasked with making Amazon’s operations more sustainable. A tick in the box for the first criteria. I genuinely find this interesting considering the number of packages we get each month and a genuine desire to live more sustainably.

Whilst the ‘Learn more’ CTA is appropriate to the destination content. I think they missed a trick in that Brittany is nowhere to be found on that landing page; a slight disconnect from the promise within the ad.

However, I did find the site interesting and naturally clicked through from the landing page to find more about their ‘Ship Zero’ initiatives. So I think it certainly ticks the boxes from a UX perspective and with me now being more aware of the sustainability initiatives they’ve achieved their objective too.

Advert Two on Twitter

Yorkshire Building Society Twitter Ad 11.06.21

I actually found this quite hilarious; I’ve got a blank carousel of cards to click through and I can only deduce that the reason they are blank is that interest rates for savings accounts are nonexistent at the moment!

Very utilitarian and uninspiring copy, with no CTA, or it’s hidden within the ad error, and when clicking on it, all it does is take me through to their Twitter profile. Epic fails as an absolute stone sinker as I don’t even have the option of going through to a landing page to view the range of savings accounts.

I decided to be a good Samaritan and sent them a tweet, alerting them to the fact that they are currently paying to serve blanks. I hope they manage to fix the issue quickly but I’m wondering how many people have been served something similar?

These two example experiences couldn’t be more polar opposite could they, and although I’ve judged them side by side, the reality is that they are trying to achieve very different things; awareness vs. acquisition.

Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple has said:

“Most business models have focused on self interest instead of user experience.”

This is so true. Often we are so blinded by what we want as a business that we fail to consider what the user needs and wants and therefore the UX suffers as a result by being hugely overcomplicated. We seem to think that a user will happily jump through multiple hoops and then be dumbfounded when they don’t.

The ultimate question we should ask ourselves is: would I do this if it was on the other foot and what data and evidence do we have to suggest that it will work. If we can get that right after many likely small iterations, then the seamless and simple user experience will mirror the perfection of that stone skimming beautifully across the water.

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