The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Tap Into Emotional Design for a Remarkable Website

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Wed, Oct 24, 2012


Business websites – particularly staid, professional, work only sites like those for a professional association – are supposed to be about facts and figures. Not emotion. Right?


At last week’s User Focus conference in Washington DC, author and user experience expert Giles Colborne gave a keynote on Emotional Interaction Design and pointed out how much emotion plays into our experiences.

Let’s face it, at some point we all get frustrated with using a website and want to act like this guy.

Yes, it is funny. And it is easy to think this guy is nuts and doing something wrong because he beat up his computer. But that is backwards. As web professionals, we must stop and understand he is frustrated for a reason and started using the computer with a level of stress that was already there.  The computer just put him over the top.

Here’s an alternate ending to the story. What if he had found exactly what he needed? What if he pushed the buttons and everything worked perfectly and saved him time?

Colborne pointed out that when one approaches a situation with a level of stress or anxiety and that situation is resolved effortlessly it creates a delightful experience.  We see this every day with real life customer service stories whether it is a smooth return to Zappo’s or how Specialty’s bakery brought my colleague a fresh orange juice.

But how often do we hear these stories about websites?

The reality is that when association members come to your website, they are visiting with a situation driven by stress.  They need to renew their certification and are worried they don’t have enough credits. They need to find a vendor because the one they had lined up cancelled at the last minute. There’s a regulatory change that could completely upend their business.  The stress is there and they are counting on your website to solve their problem.

This is where user centered design has to take root and become emotional design. Too many association websites look like the org chart and ask the user to know which department has the answer. A better approach is to understand the user through research and discovery and prioritize the reasons the users are coming.  Common reasons and point points include:

    • Continuing education

    • Networking and connecting with other professionals

    • Get industry news

    • Find a resource

    • Get or renew certification

    • Learn about regulatory updates

A good example of this in practice is the site Vanguard developed for the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT). We recognized that continuing education is the primary driver and so it is not only prominent in the navigation but has conversion points throughout the experience.

However, this all starts with research and knowing your user.  Once you do that, you can delight your member instead of annoying them.

And as Colborne pointed out, experiences that delight are not only more valued, but are remembered longer.  Which means the next time that member has a question they will remember your association’s website and will be more likely to turn there rather than a generic web search.

Topics: web strategy, Ray van Hilst, user experience, emotional design, Websites

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