Thinking like a visitor and investing in UX

A 6 minute read written by Scott January 27, 2015

An illustration of The Louvre in Paris.

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to art and design. One of my earliest experiences was a trip to the Louvre in Paris. I’ve been there couple times now and love going. It’s a massive place filled with so many treasures, several of which you’ve seen in books, on posters, or online. And you can’t help but be struck by the fact that such a large place only shows 35,000 of the 460,000 works they have.

There were a couple great articles recently, one in the New York Times and one from CNN, about how the new head of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, is spending time as a visitor to the museum to better understand the experience.

His approach is being dubbed a “petite révolution” to how this historic museum operates. Martinez stands in long lines on hot summer days and rainy mornings; shows up on Tuesdays to see the experience of the many tourists who forgot that museums are closed on that day; goes through security, and pays like everyone else; struggles to find a decent cup of coffee and a bite to eat at the restaurant; and goes elbow-to-elbow with gallery visitors as they try to view its many works like the famous Mona Lisa. He calls this “thinking like a visitor”.

I liked a lot of what I read because:

  • The use of a “light” and low cost approach to uncovering problems
  • There are people (especially leadership) getting out from behind their desks to experience what something is like and how it works
  • It’s an organization doing small things (and some big things too) incrementally to address problems

Of course it also raises a number of questions, such as:

  • How will this apply to the digital experience of the Louvre?
  • How will the Louvre ensure this isn’t just a one-time activity to reinvigorate the museum and how it works?

Chances are your website (if it hasn’t recently been redesigned) feels a lot like the Louvre:

  • It has expanded over time as you’ve added new content and functionality
  • It works in many ways day-in and day-out, but you might question if things are working as well they could be
  • There are troubling signals that things aren’t as good as they could be. People don’t visit as much as they used to, and when they do they spend less time, or leave frustrated that they couldn’t find what they wanted (your web analytics might be telling you this)
  • Key tasks and flows have become more complex
  • Content that used to hum, now seems to whimper

So how might you execute your own “petite révolution” and re-ignite your web channel? Fortunately it’s not as hard or as costly as you might think. Below are some methods you can try. And if you can, bring in a trusted web partner (like us!) to help when you need it or to build up the capabilities and understanding of your own team.

Determine who your users are

One of the things Martinez did was see who his museum users were by standing in line and connecting with those who use it. Knowing who their visitors are they could then adapt their approaches. For example he learnt quickly that most were first time visitors, and non-French, and has put activities in place to adapt signage to include other languages.

Great startups and great business leaders always talk about getting out from behind their desks and talking to users of their services and listening. So start there. Book a day week for 3-months and go see how your customers use your product/service digitally, then report back on what you learn.

Can’t make the time? Then create some basic user profiles to act as stand-ins. One of the techniques I’ve used is what I like to call “post-it-note personas”.

  • Identify some of your key users — use your market target audiences as a starting point — put them each up on a large post-it note sheet or a whiteboard
  • For each of the users, list their traits, attributes, qualities, interests, attitudes, likes/dislikes, and needs on post-it notes
  • Draw a picture of the person or find one online that you can use that captures who you’re describing
  • If you have time, make them come to life — give them a name, say how old they are, where they might live, and flush out some of the details

Then put on your empathy hat and be each one of those users. Try to complete tasks and activities they would want to complete. How does it feel? Does it work? Are there things that need to be improved?

Make sure your wayfinding works

One of the activities Martinez is doing is revamping the Louvre’s basic storytelling tools — the almost 40,000 banners, wall text, signs, and symbols that explain the items in the museum. He recognized the need to better support new visitors (who make up the vast majority of people visiting the museum), and that wayfinding was a major stumbling block to getting people to look at more of the museum. He’s also revamping the main entry to the museum (below the oft controversial I. M. Pei glass pyramid).

You don’t need to go to this extent or cost though to improve the wayfinding outcomes on your site. It’s easy to test your wayfinding and navigation and improve it. You can look at your web analytics (you have web analytics right?) or validate your navigation using a card sort.

On the web analytics side there’s one great metric you can look at — bounce rate. Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page sessions (i.e. sessions in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page). A high bounce rate generally means that your pages aren’t relevant to users. But be careful as bounce rate can be a deceiving metric (see: Make sure you look at your bounce rate for specific key landing pages, look at traffic sources, segment the traffic. Then ask “why” and make incremental changes and re-measure whether things are improving.

There are different types of card sorts you can run. Open Card Sorts, where participants are allowed to create and name their own categories for the cards, and Closed Card Sorts, where participants are given the names of the categories that they are to sort the cards into. Open card sorts are particularly useful near the beginning of a project. Closed card sorts are more useful later on when you have some candidate organizations that you want to evaluate.

  • Get a stack of index cards. On each card write your navigation items or key tasks on the front. On the back write a more detailed description if needed
  • Have people (or a group) sort the cards into groups that reflect how they would see them organized. Have them give each group a name
  • Keep an eye out for cards that aren’t understood, ask people to give them new labels
  • Evaluate the results and consider whether your wayfinding needs improvement

Try to find something or perform key user tasks

Martinez looked at a number of key tasks every Louvre visitor has to do – enter, security, pay, browse, eat/drink, leave – then looked at how each of those tasks could be improved. For example, when his own wait in line dragged on for more than two and a half hours he considered the need to improve the entry to the museum and is now in the process of expanding from 3 to 5 entrances. When he went to browse he was surprised that audio guides at the Louvre were in French only, even though most visitors weren’t French speaking. The new guides support numerous languages.

A great analogy that comes to mind for me here is parking. People aren’t seeking out a parking experience, they frankly just want to find a spot quickly, buy their parking ticket, and get to their destination.

So, take a moment and identify the top tasks that people want to complete on your site, then put on your thinking hat and consider whether your site helps people achieve those tasks. Try the tasks out yourself.

Check out your site search logs

Martinez took the time to understand the kinds of things people were looking for, and made it easier for them to find them.

Your site search logs are a goldmine of what information people are looking for on your site. And your site referrer data (in your web analytics) is also filled with details about what people type to find you and your content. Go in daily and see what people searched for, and where they ended up. Look at where they searched from (it often means they got to somewhere and were looking for that information, couldn’t find it). Each week tweak your site and site content to get them to the right place.

So journey on…

Remember, user experience is an investment — a constant investment. It’s not a box you check once. Take some time to try some of the above things out or let me know if you could use our help. And if you’re located in Paris be sure to call – I’d love another trip to my favourite museum.