Don’t Get Your Design’s Stuck on Language

e-commerce site
e-commerce site
demo e-commerce site

I’ve been designing lots of e-commerce projects lately and a theme I’ve been finding in the designs is the buttons. Specifically the implication of buttons.

We’ve all seen buttons on store that say “Add to Cart” or “Purchase” or whatever but does the simple word convey enough meaning?

The Thoughts

I am more and more of the mind that buttons with text on them don’t convey quite enough. Language doesn’t transcend cultures really. Sure lots of the world that is online would read English but why put that barrier in front of potential customers? I look at other UI elements from web browsers and applications and they provide more information than simple text.

Look at the back button on your web browser. No text is really needed to know that pressing the button will move you back in your browsing history. Same goes for the stop button and the home button. They stand alone without the text. Whey then do so many websites require descriptive text on the GUI elements?

The Simple Solution

Lately with my buttons on sites I’ve been working really hard to have a single symbol along with the button text to convey what is happening when a person clicks on a button. Submit buttons have typically been getting ‘>’ on them as well. I feel submit implies a forward type of motion though ‘+’ would also create the feeling of addition.

Buttons for purchasing products have been getting the + symbol along with the “Purchase” text. When you click it you are adding something. Similarly the “Remove” buttons have been getting the – symbol along with the text.

I’m simply trying to convey more from a usability standpoint. I want to make it easy on users with reading difficulties, or that don’t have a native language of English, by having a stand alone symbol to represent the action.

Am I alone here? What else can we do visually to make site more accessible across language barriers? How do you address these issues?

Don’t Force Your Website to Fail

failed business man stapled to wall
failed business man stapled to wall

Most companies today realize they need a presence on the web. In most industries now if you don’t have a web presence of some sort you won’t have a business for long. I know one company that stocks lots of rare items for their brick and motar store because on the web it sells across Canada and the US thus making it worth stocking. The problem I see with a number of business’s that get into the web is that they force their website to fail.

No the management doesn’t sit in the office and say “Let’s start a website and make sure it tanks and costs us needless money.” But they do sit there and decide to only go half way with solutions that rely on going all the way.

The Fail

The biggest example I have worked with is a great retail store that I did a bunch of SEO work for. We were ranked 1 or 2 on the search engines for some very generic search terms. When you searched for manufacturers of goods we carried we were ranked just below the manufacturer. We were the first place you could actually buy the product.

The problem is that the web store had a huge limiting factor that meant despite all of the good SEO work they only saw a maximum of 20 orders completed in the busy months. I happend to also know that competitors were seeing ten times those web purchases without the good SEO during the slow months.

The reality was that it didn’t matter how good the SEO was for the company. With no way to let customer purchase online it was a waste of their money. Eventually I told them that. We talked about the limiting factors of the web store and came up with a range of options to help fix or totally fix the problem (ranging from 2,000 to 20,000 in price on a monthly in store sales of 250,000 in busy months) and they just simply weren’t willing to let their website succeed.

The Conclusion

It’s all well and good to want a web presence but if you are going to jump into the web be willing to jump in with both feet. Don’t start a project only to do it half way and force the first half to fail. The conclusion to the above story is that they got me to stop working on SEO and now they’re on page 10 and still have a mostly non-functional online store.