As a Design Director at a credit union website development firm, I have heard a lot about what are referred to as “standards compliant and accessible web sites”. The definition of these “standards” is often vague. What I’ve learned is that the goal of web standards is to make the web usable for disabled individuals and to make web pages flexible in a way that allows them to display across platforms and on different devices. These methods are potentially beneficial in many ways but are not yet widely adopted. Because the web is still so new, we all feel a need for some kind of standards, it’s just a matter of what needs to be standardized and why.
What really matters for credit unions on the web is to follow some simple common sense guidelines and to implement features and content because they will help to achieve goals, not because they can be implemented or because a competitor has done it. The web (for any business) will always be about achieving business goals via a rapidly changing and new medium. One thing that is absolutely imperative to achieving those goals is a happy web user.
Standards should be user experience guidelines
There is a more important type of standard that is being overlooked. On the web today, there is rarely a balance between methods, style, creativity, usability, and presentation. Hence, there is a great need for standards that define best practices for the user experience. As credit unions we have a unique opportunity to employ these ideas because our customers’ needs are focused. We have the chance to define some credit union website standards. Where do we begin?
Set yourself apart by being un-original
We have heard customers say that they want a site that is “like nothing you’ve ever seen.” We tell them that it will then also be like nothing your members have ever seen, so they’ll have to spend too much time figuring out how to use it. If we develop a site that is modeled after a highly used website that effectively employs best practices, it is likely to be more successful. The ironic thing is that poor user experience is what people are used to, so if we provide a well designed one, they think it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen, even if it uses traditional web design methods that they see all the time. A well-designed user experience does not try to re-invent the web, but it impresses every time.
Maintain brand integrity
Translating the credit union’s brand to the online channel is an important goal for a CU site. That is because if the brand is strong, this goal by nature will create a good experience. This doesn’t just mean having your logo on the page. This means that the feeling that a member gets from your organization should be the feeling they get from the website. If the user immediately recognizes the brand, they will probably stay and interact. Never sacrifice the integrity of your brand because of any limitations set forth by a developer.
Strengthen your brand by making it easy for your users
Your web users deserve to be able to use your site without having to work too hard at it. Working hard to interact with your site makes the member’s relationship with your brand a struggle. By providing a standardized consistent layout within a website, the user can quickly become familiar with common interface elements and how to use them. With a common sense approach to content organization it won’t be hard for your users to find what they seek. After a few minutes they are comfortable with your site and feel at ease with your brand. Good usability is a brand-building tool.
Consistency is more important than creativity
The web is a wonderful place to get creative, unless you are a credit union. Let your brand developer get creative, and then translate your brand to the web using proven and traditional methods. Consistency intrinsically creates clarity in presentation. For some specific suggestions about how to implement design elements on your website to maintain consistency, read the full version of this article on our website at www.L9.com.
Crucial Content Elements – what most members look for first
Because we are lucky enough to work with one type of industry, credit unions, we have a better opportunity to employ standards that we know work. This aligns with the types of content that credit union websites offer. Once the user gets past how to use your interface, they move on to how to find what they came for. The extended version of this article at www.L9.com also contains several suggestions about how to place the content on your site successfully.
In the end it all comes down to one thing… a good user experience. Web standards of any kind would be wonderful if there were ways to actually enforce them. The software and hardware companies should focus on accessibility and display within the web browsers and devices that run them. The rest is up to us as the credit union marketers and CU site developers.
The differentiator will be strong user experience and brand integration that sets your credit union apart from the rest by using methods that have been proven to work time and time again. Next time you are thinking about how to stand out on the web, think about standardizing what you do in a way that will make life easy for your member. If you couple good user experience with strong brand integration, your online adoption rates will go up.
Jason Powell ( jasonp@L9.com ) is design director at L9, a technology CUSO and website development firm.