What Baby Einstein taught me

Most parents agree that their kids teach them something new every day.

My 15-month-old son has taught me that this is true. I do learn something new every day. And today was no different from any other day. I was schooled again.

Recently, I have noticed that my son doesn’t like watching cartoons or kids programs on TV or on the computer.. or on his iPad. He doesn’t even enjoy Dora the Explorer. He does, however, enjoy staring the screen and watching Baby Einstein.

For weeks, I have been trying to figure out why Baby Einstein (BE) is so popular. (Yes, I know that some professionals have come out and said BE is bad for kids, but for now, lets assume BE is good)

Well, today I figured it out. The producers of Baby Einstein know what they are doing. They keep every show very simple. They only show one character, one puppet or one object at one time!  Their shows are not action packed with lots of flashing fighting characters.

Their approach reminded me if one of the most important lessons about website design.

The more you put on a screen, the more the end-user is required to think, and the more the user thinks, the less likely the desired outcome will happen.

In other words, the more info, tools and stuff you put on a page, the less likely a person will complete the desired task or outcome.

I recently consulted for a company that had 12 different price options on a page. If the goal of the page was to get someone to purchase their service, it probably will not happen. It would probably take a good 15 minutes alone for someone to figure read the prices and figure out which price makes the most sense.

So what’s Baby Einstein tell us!

Keep it simple and short!

It’s important to assign more or less one objective to every web page. (Yes, even in our multi-tasking, multi-thinking culture).  Don’t treat a web page like bouillabaisse soup and throw in every possible feature/functionality/option you can think of. (OR, if that metaphor was off — then lets just say that you shouldn’t have tons of stuff happening on a web page as if it was a kids video game)

Instead, figure out the main goal for each page. Figure out the primary task you want the users to do. And define what ‘an outage’ or ‘failure’ would be. The simplest example might be the home page where an outage would be defined as

Someone exiting the site from the home page – by hitting a back button, closing the browser or typing in a different web address.

Note: I am probably oversimplifying things here by saying there should be one goal for each page. Therefore, you could divide your page up into four quadrants, for example, and have a specific goal for each area. My friend, Gary Angel calls this ‘Functionalism,’ which is an approach that breaks up a web site into its constituent pieces and then assigns one or more specific functions (or goals) to each page (or real estate on that page). These functions can be things like navigation (e.g. route visitors to a specific place), motivation (e.g. convince a user to do something) or information (e.g. provide a visitor with some piece of information).  Pages can have multiple functions, though.

And Success might be defined as simple as having a user do a search off the home page. Users easily finding a search box, easily entering in a key word and easily finding to a page where they could transact or find an answer to their questions.

My teams usually keep this simple approach in mind and select one objective for each page (or one area of the page). They then track all the outages and the successes, reviewing their metrics constantly to see if the number of outages has increased – either in terms of the total number of people having a bad experience or if the number of bad experiences increases on the site. As the diagram below points out, of all the users who went to the home page,

–       45% went to one page and left

–       35% only went to the home page

–       18% did a search

–       9% read articles

In the above diagram, searching for or reading an article of the home page is considered ‘a success.’ BUT, Going to home page and leaving the site OR just leaving the site from the home page are considered outages.

To improve a person’s overall web success rate, I tend to focus on simplifying the home page, focusing on improving one or two tasks of the home page, and continue to measure overall performance overtime.

But it’s also important to think beyond the home page and focus on other key pages especially because Google’s long-tail drives people deeper and deeper into your site – forcing designers and marketers to create and optimize multiple landing pages.

When I was at Intuit, for example, we noticed that a high percentage of users started coming to the site and landing on our forum pages. So we turned these pages into mini-portal pages (sorry to use the old web metaphor of ‘portals). And we leveraged those pages and highlight two or three other key content areas on the site.

Of course, all of the above should be part of a continuous improvement program, where you are always trying to create a better user experience. A good place to start, though, is to leverage the Baby Einstein approach, and keep your web pages simple and uncluttered. To focus on a 1-3 objectives for each page.

Key Take-A-Ways:

  1. Think about the Baby Einstein approach
  2. Determine the goal (s) of each of your top pages (eventually all pages)
  3. Define what an outages is or isn’t
  4. Establish bench mark numbers
  5. Track outages and successes on an ongoing basis
  6. Plan on a ‘continuous improvement’ approach

After thought: One could argue against what I have said above and state that video games and online have been successful because of all the action-packed scenes they have. What can I say? Maybe there’s a difference between an entertainment site and having a utility – information – commerce type of site.

Disclaimer: I have strong ties to the Disney family.

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