Wednesday, August 13, 2008

If You Design Stilettos, You Must Wear Them!

This article is about the need for stepping into a user's shoes, and staying in them. We have been revisiting (read: obsessing over) the login process in our virtual fairs, trying to make it as seamless as possible for the novice as well as the repeat-user.

Over the years, as we evolved based on the needs of event producers and organizers, we have developed some timeless rules that we follow for entry into virtual trade shows or other virtual fairs. Our core product design philosophy has leaned towards minimalism, with a heavy emphasis on simplicity for the end-user. Staying within those timeless rules while continually striving for security and increased simplicity is a delicate trapeze act.

Our customers appreciate this approach because they often happen to be end-users of the virtual fairs themselves or close to the end-users. I believe, that makes a big difference in how the virtual fair evolves. If we design stilettos, we must wear them.

Even before the virtual fair is generated, we gather from the customers the general parameters for the virtual fair that they expect. We seek answers to questions that cover non-technical process-issues and business or organizational aspects. It gives our services a holistic approach. We don't like to throw technology and a bunch of features at our customers until they add value - functional or aesthetic or preferably, both. One size does not fit all in the business of virtual trade shows and niche virtual fairs. Armed with such rounded knowledge about the customer, we configure the platform to create a complete event site but we do not tighten all the nuts and bolts yet. Before the virtual fair is finalized for pre-registrations to commence, we have one or more web-conference sitting(s) with our customer to tailor the navigation to suit their specific needs. It is a highly collaborative process. We step into their shoes and into the shoes of their users to arrive at the simplest possible way for them to experience the virtual fair. It helps tremendously when the virtual event producer or organizer is close to the user of the virtual fair. It helps tremendously when the virtual event producer or organizer feels the pain of the end-users.

This approach reflects empathy in action in technology rollouts.

This process works really well. We stay flexible enough to adapt our hosted software around the needs of the specific user groups, so that their pain is eliminated. The pain may be a business process inefficiency, a resource constraint or simply logistical headaches. A virtual trade show, or for that matter, any kind of virtual fair needs to be a pain-killer. A seamless navigation without guesswork allows users to focus on the business at hand. With each virtual fair that we do, we learn how to avoid and eliminate the possibility of pain. That means starting with the login process. Obsessing over the login process therefore makes it worth every moment spent doing it.

All this talk of stepping into the users' shoes brings up an interesting analogy. It makes one wonder - if designers of stilettos were mandated to walk and, yes - even run in their own creations, would they be designed differently? You bet!