Why Am I Here? The Importance Of Signage
By Rose Matthews, Senior Customer Experience Consultant
July 7th | 2011 By
Last weekend I helped to run a small community festival, celebrating cultural diversity in our neighbourhood. We set up marquees in the local school ground, and invited traders to present their wares – everything from ice cream and hotdogs to hand-woven woollen blankets.
My job was to sit behind a desk by the main entrance labelled “information”, to answer questions and hand out paper guides to those who requested them. It all seemed very self-explanatory.
But a bizarre thing kept happening… over and over again, people would approach my desk and say “what’s this then?” or “what do we do here?”, even just an inquisitive “Hello?”. I found myself repeatedly explaining, “This is information – what would you like to know?”.
I had a good long think about this, to understand the situation from the point of view of those enjoying the festival. Why were they confused and what could we have done to clarify things?
Here are some of my thoughts:
As we know, people don’t like to think unnecessarily. On a hot sunny day, they wander into a gate marked ‘Entrance’ and what’s the first thing they expect? To be stopped, counted, charged, given a ticket or wristband… some sort of authority is supposed to step in and ratify their entry through that gate.
Similarly there are very strong conventions on websites. People know by now that a company logo is on the top left and links to the homepage. They know that underlined text is a link to something… On eyetracking studies we see that customers gaze in the place they expect something to be, creating a hot spot in conventional areas even if that area is blank on the page they’re using.
So this was a free community festival. We had no interest in stopping people. We had a counter under the table to make sure we didn’t exceed site capacity, but there were no tickets, wristbands or bag searches. So, like the eyetracking studies on a webpage, people thought “there’s something missing here – I should stop and wait for it”, and when nothing happened they habitually sought out that expected authority.
It’s still considered a slur on our personalities, but countless studies have demonstrated this to be very valid indeed. In a situation that people are not especially passionate about, they will happily follow the crowd and do what they know other people will do.
Amazon famously took advantage of this when they introduced ‘People like you bought…’, now copied across the web with great commercial success. And at this festival, it was a simple matter of following the person in front of you. When the first person approached me to ask a question, everyone else behind him followed and approached without knowing why.
So those are probably the main insights into human psyche but often the most effective solution is the most simple. How well did we really signpost the stall? We had a big sign saying “Information”, sure, but it was propped up against the low-level table. So as soon as a crowd started to form in front of it, it was unreadable to anyone else entering the site.
And how descriptive is that word “Information” anyway? Does it tell them all they need to know? Considering what we’ve learned about convention, perhaps it would be more effective to have a clear sign on the gate saying “Free festival – come on in!” or similar.
Does your website, Facebook welcome page, or mobile app have a problem like this? Have you labelled a button or link with a completely logical word or phrase, only to find that customers don’t see it or don’t get it? I know it’s happened to me before – and you don’t find out until you watch it happen to someone in real life! But then, that’s exactly what usability testing is all about, isn’t it?