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Using the Goal-Directed Design Process to Improve Customer Experience

Customer experience is paramount for success in the Web marketplace. Because online shoppers have limitless product options and the ability to compare items instantaneously, it's not enough to make a flashy site and fill it with high-quality products. You have to make your site's design and processes all about the customer.

In his book Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh explains that Zappos designed their shipping processes for the benefit of the customer even if it meant making their warehouse workers' jobs more difficult. According to Hsieh, "the most efficient way to run a warehouse is to let the orders pile up, so that when a warehouse worker needs to walk around the warehouse to pick the orders, the picking density is higher, so the picker has less of a distance to walk."

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Running the warehouse this way would result in longer processing times and a longer wait for customers. Because of their dedication to a positive customer experience, Zappos's warehouse runs 24/7 so customers receive their orders as quickly as possible.

Software designer and programmer Alan Cooper noticed a lack of focus on consumers in software development, and he outlined strategies for making software more user friendly. While Cooper's methods, known as the goal-directed design process, were conceived with software development in mind, we can apply these principles to Ecommerce management and design for simpler, more user-friendly sites built around customer experience.

1. Design first; Build second.

Before you begin building your site, carefully plan and design it. Walk through your day-to-day operations such as shipping, customer support, and stock management. How will these processes be carried out? How can you use these aspects of your business to improve your customers' experience with your site?

In addition to the logistics of your site's daily operations, plan out exactly how users will navigate your site. Choose the fewest number of steps to checkout as possible. Any confusion, frustration, or complications on the road to checkout can lead to shopping cart abandonment.

2.  Separate responsibility for design from responsibility for programming.

Oftentimes, there is a conflict of interest when the person who plans the site also builds the site. When the same person builds and plans the site, compromises may be made in order to make the building process easier and quicker. For example, a site's developer is looking to save time by adding fewer, simpler features which may or may not make the site easier to use. A warehouse manager is looking to make shipping processes more efficient and easier on his employees even if it takes more time for orders to reach their destination.

Having a designated planner or designer for your website and business processes will help ensure that the user's experience is valued every step of the way. A designated customer advocate can be a crucial hire. Without a separation of the two roles, there is no accountability for ensuring a positive user experience.

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To go a step further, the site's designer should be knowledgeable in user experience and consumer behavior. They must look at their site's checkout process from the perspective of the consumer and address all potential speed bumps leading up to checkout. The designer doesn't have to be an island of one person either; teams can work together to design a site and its operations. We will discuss this further in a moment.

3.  Hold designers responsible for the product quality and user satisfaction.

It's not enough for the designer to set a plan and hand it off to the department managers to do with as he or she pleases. The person in charge of planning the site is now responsible for making sure the plan is followed. This designer is the end-user's advocate; all decisions should be made with the consideration of the consumer. In today's online marketplace, it is more important than ever to plan and track user experience and, if resources permit, designate a member of your business to perform this ongoing role.

4. Define one specific user for your product; then invent a persona—give that user a name and an environment and derive his or her goals.

It's one thing to create an Ecommerce business with the end user in mind; it's another to give that end user an identity and use that persona to influence business decisions. Who is most likely to buy your products? Give them a name, age, gender (if applicable), job description, life goals, pain points, and any other information that might help you to get to know your target market. Amazon keeps one chair empty at every meeting, driving home the idea that the customer is always there and should always be the focus.

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When you design your website, develop your daily operations, write posts for your company's blog, or perform any other marketing activity you need to think about the personas you created. Will your actions benefit your target user?

Having trouble getting started or just need help creating great buyer personas? Hubspot has this helpful guide to help you along the way. 

5.  Work in teams of two: Designers and design communicators.

Alan Cooper is a big supporter of two-person teams in his firm. He believes one person should design the software and the other person should be responsible for communicating the product to others (usually in writing). In Ecommerce, multiple people can work together to design a site and to communicate the target user's perspective to the designers.

This might take form as having one person to plan the site's design, another person to plan the business's operations, and a third person to ensure that all plans and designs follow the personas that were created beforehand. After the plans are shown to the web developers and department managers, the team that made the plans should monitor the implementation for quality control.


Depending on a business’s size and resources, these strategies may not be practical for every company. However, these principles are true for all Ecommerce businesses:


  • Customer experience is just as important as SEO and CRO

  • A company’s website and business operations need careful planning in a way that will benefit the customer

  • A persona has more value than a generic end-user, and personas should be followed to determine how a business’s actions will affect its target customer

For more information about Alan Cooper's goal-directed design process, check out this article.

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