The importance of usability

Kathryn McDonell, a User Experience Consultant at WhatUsersDo.com and a guest blogger on Econsultancy wrote a very detailed account of her observations on Waitrose’s relaunched online shopping service. The title of the post, “Waitrose’s redesign: where did it go wrong?” is a hint on her views on the new site, which has apparently prompted a host of complaints.

She breaks down the results of a comparative usability exercise that they (I assume Karen is “they”) ran:

As a comparison, we asked users to perform the same tasks on Tesco’s online shopping site and to give their preference.

Users were asked users to select five items to put in their shopping trolley: bread, eggs, sunflower oil, a red pepper and two tuna steaks, thinking aloud as they did so.

If you’re a believer in the importance of usability, their test basically shows that people think that Waitrose’s design is cleaner and more beautiful, but that it falls down when people actually have to use the site.

The most interesting part of this post is the videos of users trying to perform some very basic online shopping tasks and thinking out loud as you watch a video of their screen showing what they are trying to do.

I’ve worked with a number of people who have never experienced this sort of research first-hand. It’s an incredibly important part of the process. I’d recommend checking out these videos (if not reading the whole post), especially if you’ve never seen it.

Any new website that’s launched will have problems. If you’re Waitrose, and you’ve been doing eCommerce for years, you expect it and you prepare a budget to optimise the experience for people as the feedback rolls in. If your budget isn’t as generous, not paying attention to usability in your process can be a very costly error.

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Adidas is football

The subtitle of this post should be “frustrations of a football dad” as the inspiration comes, in part, from teaching my son about Football (soccer if you are in America).

I recently had the opportunity to talk shop with some people in the digital marketing team at Adidas. As with any topic that crosses my path, I found myself thinking about their web presence and my personal experience of their brand. It sparked a few ideas that I got excited about, but wasn’t pretentious enough to go and pitch to them on my own. Who knows, they may already be doing this sort of thing, or thinking about it. If not, perhaps someone will see this post and be able to use these ideas. I see no point in keeping them secret.

I suppose I should walk you through my thought process. First of all, thanks to a really great thinker that I came across a few years back (Marc Drees), I have paid an incredible amount of attention to how brands manage the findability of their content. There are so many channels for spreading information now that a good brand manager must really spend time thinking about how their ideas and information will make its way into the consciousness of the people that will ultimately buy or believe in your product or service.
For a brand like Adidas Football, they need to sell boots, clothes, balls and accessories. They have a combination of glamorous products, like the Premier League kits for the clubs they sponsor and the performance quality boots that their sponsored players wear, and basic stuff like wristbands, track suits and shin guards. And perhaps most importantly, they have an iconic brand that has been synonymous with football for decades.

So where are they going wrong?

Well as a football dad in London, with a son that loves football as much as life itself, I think they are missing a huge opportunity to solidify their position in my son’s heart. They are aligning their brand to all of the wrong things.

To be fair, they are not the only ones in their category to do so. But I don’t have time to rant about everyone.

So, what do I mean by this claim? Adidas sponsor football clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool and players like Kaka and Stephen Gerrard. The exposure in these cases aligns their brand in ways that can divide people or make them feel alienated. People that support these clubs or players will purchase Adidas products, but are they doing so because they love Adidas? If Stephen Gerrard’s contract ran out and Nike picked him up, whose boots would all of his fans buy? If Umbro got the Chelsea kit contract, what brand would the next generation of Chelsea kids associate with the best of breed? Whose boots would the want to wear to Sunday football in the park?

By aligning to clubs and players in this way, you limit your reach to only those that are “in” with the club or the player, at the expense of the entire footballing world.

I first noticed this at the park where my son plays on Sundays. Where he wanted the goalkeeper’s kit for his club. He wanted it because it was a different colour and stood out on the pitch. This became the first player on this club that he could name. When it came time to buy football boots, he wanted some for the colour, not for the brand or even for the quality of the boot (not that I expected him to know this at 5). When I showed him that the boots I thought he should get were made by the same people that make Petr Cech’s orange kit, he was sold. I immediately thought Adidas was missing a trick.

If his Sunday football club had Adidas balls, water bottles, medals, and so on, there would have been no question which boots he wanted. He would want the ones with the three stripes because he would have assciated that with Football itself. Wearing Adidas means he is serious about football, like anyone else that is into football, regardless of the player or club they support.

By focusing on a more grass roots approach, much could be done to solidify the brand with a generation of future ahletes…. And and moms and dads that will be watching them grow.
Teaching my son to play football has also made me aware of some other big missed opportunities. For example, it is nearly impossible to find good highlights of the Premier League action, if you don’t have cable. And to make matters worse, you have to subscribe to multple networks to get all of the action. Being American, I’m so used to Sports Center and ESPN.com that I think this is a great travesty. My son has few opportunities to see proper football that it’s no wonder he doesn’t know who the players are and can’t comprehend the complexities of the games strategy.

Someone should see this and put an end to the way the game is being taken further and further away from the average fan. Someone with enough influence to bring football, big and small, together for everyone. Someone who stands to gain from it, in the short-and long-term. Someone like Adidas.

What if you could go to Adidas.com and watch highlights of football from around the world?

What if coaches, players, kids, dads, moms and more could comment and vote for what represented good football? The best moves, players, clubs and more?

What if there was a community section that tracked the progress of leagues, clubs and players in every part of the world?

What if people could add personal stats and video highlights to their own profile? (giving videos and pictures taken on mobile phones a place to live)

What if leagues could sign up for sponsorship packages with free Adidas gear for their young stars?

What if coaches and parents could download advice on teaching their kids skills?
Suddenly Adidas becomes the brand that you turn to for anything football related. They become synonymous with football itself and don’t need to rely on expensive sponsorship packages to position their brand. They go back to the time when he reason someone wore Adidas on the pitch was because it was the best gear in the world. Period. Not because they make Chelsea’s shirts. But because they make Tau, Christian, Max and Timmy’s Sunday football experience betts and give their dads and families and communities a way to connect with football itself.

Better? I think so.

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