Why websites need to be more like people

I actually wanted to call it *machines should be more like people, but that wouldn’t link bait as much [#shameless]

Read the damn article. Don’t just skim it.

The Insight:- We rattle our remote controls, beg our phones to not die out, apologize to our laptops when we drop em, and feel genuine disgust looking at old Web 1.0 interfaces. Why is that?

Because, as human beings we seek human interaction. Its our survival instinct. We see Jesus on toast, see faces on moon rocks, and  figures on a Rosharch ink blot. Its called Pareidolia, and it happens because its easier to interact with a human v/s an inanimate object (like a rock or a website)

We’d much rather outsource our own internal processing to a human being by simply telling our problems to him and expecting intelligent solutions in return. That’s also why we hate pressing buttons on an IVR, and we want to jump straight to talking to someone on the other line.

 So, whats the significance of all this? How does it affect websites?

Here’s the ugly truth. A website, at its very core, is simply a channel that provides all the information that a consumer needs – designed in a manner that is simple and aesthetically pleasing. Mummas and Papas feel extremely happy when their children are looking their best with a bright smile and clean shoes.

When websites are only designed for this purpose (transaction and not interaction) – there’s a sense of cognitive dissonance in the minds of the visitor. Her query can not be solved effectively and she moves on. Sure the information is all out there, but it might not be the information that she’s looking for, or  maybe there’s too much of it at one go.

“What we really need to focus on, is building sites that estimate all the queries that a user could have (while browsing through) – and portray them in an aesthetically pleasing manner.” [ Select this statement with your cursor and it’ll automatically tweet it out for you. How cool!]

Square space understands that on other sites, visitors need to enter their credit-card info (yuck), and has explicitly stated that there’s no need to.


Because of this untapped service in the market, there came many-a-UX patriots that claimed many things. One of them was “user journey mapping”, and the other – “copy optimization”.

All of this was integrated quite effectively with the help of the Ol Sacred Sorting Hat or more commonly referred to as “The A/B Test” “Gryiffindor !” *cough cough.  I meant – “Treatment”




photo credit: viviandnguyen_ via photopin cc + a few modifications

There’s a lot of noise out there, and it seems that everyone’s into copy and conversion optimization. What really lies underneath, is the core essence of the website. By applying the Khera Model of web communication, we have the following features-

1. The personality of the website

2. The tone of the persona

3. The type and level of interaction

4. The persona’s background and his beliefs

I just slipped you a fast one. What does all this mean?

A website is simply a salesman/lead designer/product manager/CEO/secretary represented in their virtual essence. An Odesk is more like a concierge, vs an Alibaba’s more like a middle-man bargainer. A Microsoft.com is more sales-man & customer support rep, and a Salesforce.com is the product manager that provides all the relevant information to its customers.

People coming to these sites have different objectives and different questions to ask from it – before they decide to part with their money.

1. The personality of the website

Amazon.com What kind of a personality does Amazon have?

amazon logo

1. The Logo – It starts with the cheeky smile. A cheeky smile that starts from A and ends at Z. Notice closely how the bottom of the Z curves inwards – similar to the lips that push into the cheeks while smiling. In most micro-expressions discussions, its considered to be a sign of contempt, however its usually a sign of playfulness. [Asymmetrical Smiles] #Smiling like the amazon logo.


cheeky amazon smile cheeky amazon smiledownload

It all starts from here. The cheeky smile puts people at ease, when they’re nervous about getting a good deal, finding a decent fathers day present, or buying appliances for a new apartment. The cheeky smile that reassures us that Amazon’s got us covered. I’m curious about the effects of mirror neurons on seeing a smile on a logo.

*Side note – Magazine Ella Bache was forced to remove a cover photo of their modes staring blankly directly at you, all the while totally nude. They were told to put a picture of the models smiling.

2. The UI – Amazon’s design has a really smart balance of information showcased in a some-what minimalist way. The left-hand navigation has a large list of item categories – but its not really all that intimidating. Sort of like a Lionel Messi. Amazon’s got the goods but won’t brag about it. Its like a work of art – It really is. Check out Khan Academy’s Ben Kamens demonstration of Amazon’s navigation.

amazon navigation menu

The navigation is actually a customized jquery that triangulates the position of the mouse and displays the drop-down accordingly. Neat stuff. [Moving on]

What else is working for them?

Amazon UI analysis of website

– The giant ass search bar – All e-commerce sites should have a giant ass search bar!

– The top right hand corner stamp of security – “100% purchase protection”

– The overwhelming amount of stuff on the homepage – Amazon knows a thing or two about user behavior.

We’re scanners. We scan stores both on-line and off-line, to find something that suites our mood.

There’s two types of users (broadly speaking) that come to Amazon

1. Visitor that knows what she wants

2. Visitor that doesn’t

By having a lot of tabs on the homepage along with prices and products, it captures the attention of both the casual browser and the specific hunter. Why? Because, a hunter will add his favourite MP3 player and add a set of headphones that she “happened” to notice on the way, and a casual browser sees a set of headphones on sale and picks em up immediately. Amazon probably spends a lotta cash on user journey mapping and behaviour analysis. $$

3. UX – I’m not about to map the journey here. I’m just gonna mention a few points here.

a. User doesn’t have to look too far to get the information that she needs. Everything is just a click, slide, mouse-over, drop-down, away. b. Recommendations. Amazon is the guide to the marketplace of the world, and below every product description they have a recommended products section.

Smashing Magazine’s got an awesome article about UX btw.You can check it out here – Smashin’ article ’bout UX

Areas of improvement

Amazon is in the top position right now, and is in no way in any danger of being dethroned. However, as the competition heats up, they’re gonna wanna invest in improving their persona a bit.

i. Changing terminology – The terms, phrases, copy, text, need to be more personalized to the category, demographic, and geographic. E.e. Having “This item successfully added” for an electronics product page, and having “Item successfully added. The kids are gonna love it.” for a teddy bear product page. Its the little things that count, and leave the user extremely happy with their experience.

ii. Cleaning up the interface – Amazon’s constant struggle to please everyone has left their pages filled with information. Filled to the brim in most cases. There’s a lot of content on each of the pages, and the experience feels clustered. Visitors may move on to specialized stores – like Zapoos for shoes, Istore for phones, Nike.com for shoes, etc. etc. A clear persona, is a clear brand, is a clear message. You know what else? Here’s Etsy’s unsubscribe page –


 2. The tone of the persona

Speak the consumer’s language, or speak a language that consumers want to be a part of. Its all about being a part of a tribe, and understanding what terminology the tribe uses, and how the sentences flow.

Your consumers will be the best source of insights regarding tone. If you still want examples then you can check out Copyhackers here, although I think its incredibly dumb to pick a voice from a list. Although Joanna, breaks it down quite nicely here –

Quick Insight – Build a website for a single tone of voice, when you can’t target consumers one-to-one. If you’ve got the chops, then just like Google, you need to customize the information presented based on Geo, Demo, Phsyco, and Intent-o.

Distilled’s got an annoyingly long blog post about tone and voice here. Worth a once over.

No Examples for this one! Because, its too easy to just find one yourself or develop one for your clients. You know what though, it might difficult to convince the bosses if your own tone is a bit simplistic and non-scientific.

Don’t worry, I got you covered. Here’s a great resource that creates a communication framework from USABilla that can put any upper management exec to sleep instantly. Its gotta lotta funky words and frameworks that sound really fancy and convincing.

3. The type and level of interaction

Zappos is known worldwide for their customer interaction stories. Here’s a few more.

They’re crazy into their consumers. Its a lot more relationship oriented. Now think about the interaction at a Walmart, or a McDonalds, where the interaction is strictly transaction based. Apart from the loyalty card or two, there isn’t much of interaction between them and the customers, which makes it extremely difficult to recommend the product to their friends.

In other words, TALK TO YOUR VISITORS! Nuff Said. [Moving on]

WebEngage is an awesome freemium tool that allows you to directly connect with the customers on your site. Appsumo has some excellent free tools as well. The absolute least that you can do is this


 4. The persona’s background and his beliefs

This one’s my favourite, because this really defines your brand, your marketing efforts, and your communications in general. The background and belief.

Bank of America


Ain’t nothing more ‘Merican than Bank of ‘Merica. Their background and beliefs are pretty clear. We’re conservative but we care about our customers. We believe in technology as our tool to a safer, secure, and prosperous nation. And we hate hippies. Talk to a group of younger Americans, and they won’t forget what happened with BoA and the bailout.

There’s still some bad blood there. Add to that the fact that BoA has been voted last in terms of consumer satisfaction.  But you know me, I hate reports that claim this or that, because they can be easily fudged or even badly misinterpreted. Eitherway, its clear that a company’s background and beliefs can be appealing to some [old conservative duds] and not to others [young mixed race] folks.

Establishing the background and beliefs of a company on its website is critical to communicating your message.

Congratulations cool person! You’ve done it. Much effort. Many pains. Multiple rewards await you in your future.

Alright, in conclusion. I hope you f*ckers create a kick ass site that communicates to consumers, rather than building a one-way beep boop beep machine that dumps information into your Pre-frontal cortex.

Focus on the UI (the make-up) and make it as creative as possible. Cuz pretty faces draw attention for a slightly longer time and non-pretty ones.




photo credit: ‘PixelPlacebo’ via photopin cc