Great Expectations

I love to read.

I usually have multiple books on the go at any given moment. The book I’m reading right now is decided by where I am, whether that’s my living room, my bedroom, my desk at work, or my desk at home.

When I look at my pile of books, I can see the appeal of speed-reading. I’d be able to read more!

When I read non-fiction purely out of personal interest, I’m happy to stroll along and take it in. But when information is needed now, I have to pick up the pace — I don’t have time for the scenic route.

I recently picked up “The Timeless Way of Building,” by Christopher Alexander, and this was on the page before the Table of Contents.

The Timeless Way of Building, by Christopher Alexander

This book was written, formatted, and printed for readers to wander as well as to run. The author understands that every reader has different — often changing — wants and needs, and yet, still has a shared expectation that this book will provide them with information and inspiration.

Many books have a similar structure. They allow for a cover-to-cover read when the reader has the time, a quick skim when they just need the gist, as well as a quick reference when they need to track down a single sentence.

Books come with tools like Tables of Contents and Indexes allow readers to find specific information, whether or not they’ve read the rest of the book.

Readers also add their own devices to the book, such as highlighting or bookmarking.

Your product or service is also used by people who’re adjusting how they approach your product based on their specific needs of the moment; each user has their own pace.

The act of buying something can occur at the same three paces as reading a book. What structures, tools, and devices can you identify for each of these paces?

Normal checkout process: Cover-to-Cover

The customer could be buying one jar of peanut butter, or they might have a cart full of groceries and they want to get a raincheck on an in-store promotion because the person in front of them bought the last jar of peanut butter.

Self-checkout: Skim

The customer wants to cut out the middle person; they’ve got the goods, and they’re ready to pay and go. They’ve chosen to do it themselves, but they still expect they’ll be able to receive the same services as a normal checkout if something comes up — they need help with a pricing error, to remove an item, and they’ll be able to use their loyalty card and get a receipt.

1-click ordering: Quick Reference

The customer has found what they want and they’re taking it. They understand the consequences of “you click this, you bought it,” but their expectations for the usual level of service remain. They’ll still be able to cancel or change their order, return an order, access order information, or ask for help.

In each of these buying experiences, our shoppers approached their checkout with a different pace. However, their end goal — making a purchase — didn’t change.

We can see these same three paces in action as users look for information on the internet. Again, what structures, tools, and devices can you identify for each of these paces?

Cover-to-Cover: I want to know everything.

Also known as a top-down approach; people come to your website with the intention of strolling through your content.

Skim: I want to know a few things, and I know you have the answer.

This is also known as the bottom-up approach; when people know vaguely what they’re looking for, they’ll probably start by searching for general terms on Google or in your site’s search tool, quickly scan for only the most relevant information, and check out just a handful of pages.

Quick Reference: I want to know one thing, and one thing only.

This is also a bottom-up approach. With specific search terms on Google — or if they’ve found this information before before, a list of bookmarks — they go to a single page on your website.

Though the methods varies, the search for information remains constant. At all three paces, the structure of your website — and the internet in general — supported the user. Tools like search engines and site navigation provided them with quick ways to get to the content. Some people will even employ their own devices for future reference, such as using browser bookmarks, or apps like Pocket or Pinterest.

Straightforward experiences like buying coffee also occur at a variety of paces. Companies like Starbucks have provided the structure and tools to support all of your caffeine-related needs.

Cover-to-Cover: Normal checkout

The customer comes into Starbucks, peruses the menu, latest features, baked goods, and settles on a muffin — “Warmed up, please” — and venti blonde roast. While they wait for their muffin to get toasty, they take grab the day’s paper and start the crossword, settling into a cozy arm chair in the sun.

Skim: Drive-thru

The customer is on the go and a Starbucks run isn’t going to slow them down. They cut out most of the human interaction by zipping through the drive-thru loop. They know what they want, they’ve got the cash, give them the coffee.

Quick Reference: Order ahead

It’s the morning, ain’t no one got time to talk to someone. The customer selects and pays for their usual on the phone while walking out their door just moments before walking through Starbucks’ door. They arrive, they take their coffee, and they go.

When we create experiences , we need be aware that our users are approaching our experience at different paces, but with shared goals. We need to make sure our structures, tools, and devices support those different paces.