South Africa’s largest online retailer, Kalahari.net, has adopted a new methodology that focuses on the site’s user experience.
Head of product and design for Kalahari.net, Rian van der Merwe, says embracing the new web design philosophy, User-Centred Design, represents a ‘major shift’ in how the site interacts with its users.
“Now that the basic design framework is live, and we’re moving on to improvements in the interaction of specific flows, we will be doing usability testing on prototypes to understand both that what and the why of how our users interact with our site,” Van der Merwe said
“User-centred design thrives on ongoing user testing throughout the development lifecycle, but it is also based on established and well-known user interface guidelines,” he explained. “Our initial changes were identified using quantative web analytics and a heuristic evaluation of our site, based on those established industry standards for user interfaces.”
Van der Merwe said users should already notice “new navigation, cleaner pages, and a renewed focus on implementing the site based on web industry standards, which has many benefits such as faster page loading”.
“kalahari.net has elected a shift in design methodology moving forward. Simply put, we’re optimising our service around the needs and goals of shoppers, instead of forcing them to change their behaviour to accommodate us,” he said.
Van der Merwe said the initial changes have been “incredibly well received”.
“Feedback has been positive. Comments have centred on the cleaner and more contemporary design, and how it’s easier to notice the products and specials we’re running on the site. For typeface, font sizes, and background, we went back to established industry standards for optimal readability and discoverability.”
Van der Merwe said aesthetics are extremely important in user-centred design. “The aesthetic component has two primary functions. First, to provide the visual hierarchy of the site. This ensures that it’s intuitive and easy for users to interact with the primary actions on a page, while secondary actions are findable but less prominent. Second, to provide the emotional brand connection. This helps to establish how people recognise and feel about the brand, which leads to the all-important component of trust.”
Asked to share the persona they used to define the kalahari.net shopper when creating its user-centred design, Van der Merwe said that this was sensitive proprietary information “and we are not at liberty to share it”.
Van der Merwe is an eBay veteran in User Experience Design and was previously based in San Francisco.
“kalahari.net has experienced dramatic growth and its visitors are becoming increasingly web-savvy. Our shift in methodology was prompted by our desire to offer kalahari.net shoppers the ultimate online shopping experience. User-Centred Design is gaining traction globally because it has proven time and again that it makes websites easier to use, which of course makes customers happy. Simply put, we’re optimising our service around the needs and goals of shoppers, instead of forcing them to change their behaviour to accommodate us,” he said.
User-Centred Design is a systematic design process that goes beyond the creation of pretty visuals to deliver real customer and business benefits. It will make it easier for online shoppers to see, browse, find and buy from kalahari.net’s catalogue of approximately 13 million products.
“The user experience field in South Africa is still very much in its infancy, but we’re finally starting to see more product managers and designers focused on this area.” Van der Merwe said he’s excited about the talented product and design team they’re building at kalahari.net.
“I’d love to see more designers join in the conversation that the local user experience community is having on Twitter, at local meetups, etc. We need to spread these ideas so that more local companies can start incorporating user experience design methods into their everyday work.”
Van der Merwe blogs <http://www.elezea.com/> and tweets <http://twitter.com/rianvdm> regularly about these and other topics. He is a member of BayCHI (The Bay Area Computer-Human Interaction Association), the Silicon Valley association for user experience professionals. He is also a regular speaker at local events such as GeekDinners and Huddlemind courses.
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