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The new web

. Iga

A few months ago “Wired” magazine claimed that the web is dead (The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet) By Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff August 17, 2010). I’ve heard many comments and personal points of views on this, but I can say one thing for sure – our consumption of content on the web is not the same from just a year ago. Pondering this issue reminded me of another article I read in the beginning of the year that, in fact that, ended up influencing me in my design approach more than I would want to admit. The article was written by Forrester's Moira Dorsey: The Future of Online Customer Experience.

She starts off by saying that every new technology follows a pattern – when it is introduced it always imitates another technology, most likely the one it is replacing (or competing with). So, the first car with the internal combustion engine looked like a horse-less carriage, the first television sets imitated radios with a tiny screen in front. And the early, and many current websites heavily rely on paper / print media vernacular. And so the web headers look much like in printed newspapers, and we we are virtually flipping the pages and some people even believe in things being above or below the fold. But just like with automobiles and home entertainment the web (design) as we know it is radically evolving whether we want to admit it or not.

We, the consumers have much higher expectations today than just a few years ago as of what the web technology should do for us and how we want to experience it. This forces designers, including myself, to consider the interactive space as a ecosystem not as web pages. Designing an interactive ecosystem is like building the entire city, vs a single building. We are used to building websites as destinations, just like architects build a school, or a hospital. Now, we need to design around the customer behavior, or his need states to connect activities to web services (like finding a public restroom on the go, or scanning a barcode while in store to find the best deal). This is very much like a city planner would need to consider where to build a shopping mall for the convenience and maximum accessibility for the shoppers, but also to attract the right retail. It’s bigger than just a single structure.

Today, it’s about designing interactive components that live in ubiquity, ready to be accessed regardless of the user’s environment, circumstances or platform. It really began to irritate me when someone at work talks about ‘building a web page”. The reality is that nobody is going to come looking for “your page” - the exception here are product or content pages (editorial or news).

If large companies continue to rely on one, centralized destination for their product and services they risk being marginalized. With the emergence of highly specialized (and personalized!) apps and shopping aggregators, customers enjoy the selection of products that meet their criteria but of which they might have not been aware of previously. Browsing my iPad version of Gilt and ShopStyle recently, I discovered several boutique brands that I have never heard of before. I noticed however, how the traditional big players in the category were not present at the moment when I was making my purchase decision. Of all the big players only Gap seems to be getting it, by providing multiple entry points (product placements – not promos or banners) outside the .com destination. SEO is one thing, diversifying your brand encounter opportunity is another.

Gone are the days when if we wanted to get the news we would go on the corner and buy a newspaper. Gone are the days that when I am thinking of furniture, or car batteries I have a set of choices (retailers) I need to go to (homepages). Today, I choose to shop ‘my way’. Be it at my lunch break when I take a walk to the park and pull out my iPhone, or be it late in the evening when reading editorial on my iPad in bed. I will be looking for product recommendations in my apps, in product reviews, throughout the expert blogs, in the editorial articles, on Facebook through my friends photos, through my spouse, on YouTube, etc. The retailers who understand best how people behave, where and why the purchasing decisions are being made and what influences them will eventually be able to close the sale. Shopping today is more complex than simply walking inside the store - virtual or brick - and simply buying.

Many people behind the driving wheel at large scale retail companies just don’t get it. Or, even if they do it will take them literally years to implement any good system or framework. Good thinking is often put aside in favor of quick-turnaround, tactical stuff like badges, activity feeds or other disjointed efforts to create tools or pages that few can find and use.


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