How big is your carrot?

It’s often said in UX that if you inconvenience users, even slightly, they will leave you in their droves for your competitors. It’s used as an argument for providing better usability in products. But things are never that simple in reality.

The likelihood of them dumping you is related to the size of your carrot. Understanding whether you’re dangling a big one or not can help you make design decisions.

Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout Willis?

Your carrot is the perceived reward that is on offer for your users’ perseverance. There are many influences on its size. I take the term from the metaphor of dangling a carrot in front of a donkey in order to get the donkey to walk.

Version 2 of the BBC’s iPlayer website had a significant issue with the way it mixed TV and Radio content together. It came up in user testing time and again (the BBC published the usability testing reports on the internet) but it was released without the issue being fixed. To fix it would be to accept that the BBC’s idea of blurring the lines between TV and Radio was flawed.

It launched with the problematic issue still present but this didn’t lead to lots of people stopping using it. Even today the iPlayer is a fantastic concept and is often the only way of watching the TV show you want. It has a huge carrot, so despite the issues, users will be motivated to use it. That doesn’t excuse the decision to ignore the results of usability testing, but it does lessen the impact of it.

Image source — BBC

When it came to developing version 3, the issues surfaced again (they published those reports also) but this time around the findings were acted upon. TV and Radio were split apart completely. These days TV and Radio are on separate players entirely.

The hell of corporate travel planning

Many of you reading this will have had to endure the online booking system of the corporate travel agent your employer forces you to use when booking business travel. I won’t name names; they are pretty much all as bad as each other.

It’s likely that this is just one of several sucky pieces of software you need to use in your working life. Those vendors all get away with having lame UX for the same reason. You aren’t the one who chooses which provider to use, so the software vendor isn’t very interested in you. They have a big carrot because you as an individual are powerless to go elsewhere (without getting into trouble). Their competitors usually also have systems which are just as bad.

Plug — If you’re feeling that pain just now, tell your boss about Skyscanner TravelPro.

It’s not about having permission to suck

I’m not arguing that you can subject people to a bad experience when you have a captured or highly engaged audience. Instead you should consider where you have carrot to play with and where you don’t. You often don’t have a great deal of user motivation to waste, but when you do, you can consider the best experience for the user in the longer term. Sometimes a bit of user effort in early set-up can save them a lot of time and effort later on.

So what about your own carrot?

Many small e-commerce websites make decisions based on what leading companies such as Amazon and Asos do. They don’t have as big a carrot as those businesses, so decisions to follow that lead are often misplaced. Take for example, the fact that you need to register to buy anything from Amazon. Small e-commerce businesses who follow suit are losing money because they don’t understand the size of their carrot.

Why does it matter?

It’s worth getting a feel for the size of your carrot in certain circumstances because everything can’t be made easy to understand all of the time. When you have the choice, for example, to decide at which point in an experience to bring in some necessary complexity, then you might want to consider doing it at the point where the user is aware of the value in proceeding. Do so any sooner and your carrot might not be big enough to get them to take steps forward.

The account sign-up process is a good example. This is an area that, in recent years, is a lot more streamlined than it generally was. If you looked outside of the top internet companies a while back, the approaches to sign up were often pretty horrendous. These days you’re usually only asked for the minimum necessary information in order to create an account and that can often be bypassed with social sign-in. This is because the carrot is often too small initially to get them to complete a big form.

Some websites and software will let you set up an account with minimal information even though you won’t be able to use the software properly without providing more. The reason they do this is to get you over the sign-up hurdle with minimum fuss. When you have an account and can see value in the service, you are more likely to provide the additional information they need from you. The timing of the request is based on how engaged you are. They ask you for more detailed information when the carrot is big enough to do so.

What effects the size of your carrot?

Lots of factors affect the size of your carrot. Here are a few to consider.

  • How much of time/money has the user already invested?
  • How viable are the alternatives to using your service?
  • How easy is it to drop your service for a competitor?
  • How obvious is the value the user will get from your service?
  • How attractive is that value?

As you can probably see, the size of your carrot is not constant. Sometimes you need to get the user ‘up and running’ swiftly and easily. Other times it’s better in the long run to request a little time investment up front. Understanding the size of your carrot can help you decide which of those is most appropriate.

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