Sometimes Amazon is not always the best design inspiration

July 6, 2018 5:22 pm

Sometimes Amazon is not always the best design inspiration

I’ve been watching people buy things on Amazon this week. Whatever the sector, when we’re researching users’ needs, Amazon is a great comparison to include in a session to trigger discussions because it is often held up as having some of the best interaction designs to help people find and buy the products they want quickly and efficiently.

But one thing that has come up several times this week is users saying how distracting it is.

When users search for the product they need, they see a whole lot of other products that take them off-course: sponsored products in the search listings, other-users-also-bought products, based-on-your-browsing-you-may-also-like type of products.

These can be very useful links when you are browsing, let’s say, for a gift for someone and looking for inspiration. But for people looking to buy specific products, let’s say for a business and they just need to get the job done, these extra products can be a real problem. When a user’s eyes are drawn to look at them and they have to decide if they are the right product for them. This takes time. It adds confusion (why is that product there? did I do the search wrong?) And it uses cognitive capacity that should be focused on the task at hand. The designs and interaction patterns that are useful and helpful for one situation has quite the opposite effect in another.

We’ve seen this week on Panorama how Facebook has been designed from the ground up to keep us scrolling and regularly see recommendations to go on a digital detox.

But it’s not just social media that is after our attention. Cyd Harrel (who I saw speak at the User Research London conference a couple of weeks ago) wrote about getting unwanted emails from a bra website. From a business perspective, the emails were probably part of maintaining engagement and increasing visits to the site. The frequency of site visits and engagement are often in the key metrics that many companies use to measure the success of their websites and thus also the focus of a lot of UX designers’ time. But Cyd switched the question and asked what value do those emails give to the user?

When she is shopping for a bra, it’s a single task, done only occasionally and once it’s done, it’s done. You don’t need reminders, more recommendations or links to blog posts about buying bras. Whether it’s scanning your inbox that’s full of marketing emails or a blog post with many you-might-also-like articles, you have to look and think just a moment to decide if it’s something that should be looked at. All those micro-decisions add up to a lot of cognitive-load and deplete our decision making faculties that can affect us in ways we don’t expect or want.

So that brings us back to our research this week, with people buying things on Amazon but not feeling the love. For some things we buy it’s great to have variety and options: shopping for groceries, or for the next book to read we want inspiration. But in other situations, like when we are at work, we need to just get in get the job done and get on with something else.

As UX designers we can be tempted to use interaction patterns that have been seen to work on one site and use them in a new design. But as UX researchers we get to see how user needs vary across situations, even when the journey looks to be the same. And that’s the real key to ensure the longevity of returns to your site and continued engagement.