Red flag: what if someone…

One of the biggest enemies of clear, effective design is the statement: “what if someone asks us…fill-in-the-blank.” All of us have been in meetings and heard this statement in one form or another. It can go something like:

  • But what if someone thinks we are open on holidays?
  • But what if someone demands that we honor that offer in the middle the night?
  • What if they want it faster than we can deliver?
  • Often it comes down to…What if someone, who doesn’t want what we offer calls and asks us to offer something different than we offer?

So think about that. If someone who is not your customer, is confused about what you’re offering, is it worth confusing your own customers to clarify anything to that non-customer? Well when I put it like that, it’s obvious that the answer is no. What most people don’t appreciate, is that any extraneous information — and that includes color and images and sound not just text — should be thought of as working in opposition to your mission.

The natural response in this situation, is “we can just add-fill in-the-blank.” But for simplicity sake, stop and challenge the assumption that the question deserves to be answered. When you’re in that meeting — especially if you are the manager — head off the discussion of “we can just add” with the following questions.

  • Is this question likely to come from our actual customers? Is it coming from non-customers?
  • What percentage of our customers would ask this question? If it’s less than 10%, pass on adding anything extra to address this question.
  • What will happen in the situation if the question is asked? If it’s not something terrible, pass on adding anything extra to address this question.
  • If someone asks this question, could actually be an opportunity to build a face-to-face relationship? In that case, it’s not really a bad thing but staff will need to be trained.
  • If we don’t know how many customers it will affect– especially if we’ve determined that something bad could happen — we need to do some research.

I often hear people use the rationale that “we don’t want to take a bunch of phone calls on fill-in-the-blank.” I suggest you also challenge that assumption. I’m not suggesting leaving out basic information, but if your website is designed to build a practice, a face-to-face business, or any project that relies on building a relationship, maybe it isn’t a bad thing to have someone contact you for more information.

“Just Add” is another red flag. Adding words, images, color, or sounds is never “free.” Like currency, we exchange words, images, color and sound for our customer’s attention. But unlike money, the more we use, the less we get.

I hope I’ve given you something helpful in the quest for simplicity. Because we know simple isn’t always easy.