Overcoming barriers to entry

UX design is not just making a pretty interface. A big part of it is identifying the “ah-ha” moment that makes people love your service, and identifying ways to increase adoption or to reduce barriers to adoption so that more people get to that moment.

For example, part of my branded tracking link service, Tracker.ly runs on our client’s web servers, so links are branded to their actual websites instead of unrelated domains.

When I demoed the very first beta version to potential clients in 2005, they wanted to sign up on the spot. Then I explained how to install it: You download the code, unzip it, get an FTP program, upload the files, go in and set permissions, edit the config file, and (at the time), create a database, add the credentials to the config file, and run the code to setup the tables.

Upon hearing that, their initial enthusiasm quickly turned to disinterest.

Yay! I had identified a huge barrier to entry! Getting started was too time-consuming and technically intimidating.

So, I invented an automated installer to remove that barrier, and successfully sold $295K of product in the first week of sales in 2006 – largely due to how easy it was to set up.

The installer design was heavily inspired by InstallShield, used to install Windows software. It was a dialog wizard that took people through the process. This is a screenshot of part of the current version:

The current wizard format for the Tracker.ly installer.

In the following 13 years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to identify other barriers of entry caused by this installer wizard concept, mainly:

  1. Many of the screens have too much text, so it looks intimidating, and people can’t easily prioritize what to read.
  2. Some people don’t understand all the terminology, and end up making the wrong choices, which our staff then needs to manually undo.
  3. When things failed, people had to exit the installer and make a support ticket, entering their FTP details to a ticketing system.

I’m currently doing a complete redesign of the entire Tracker.ly service. In designing a new version of the installer, I identified the following business goals:

  1. To eliminate the opportunities for user error on installs.
  2. To decrease the number of abandoned installs.
  3. To increase the number of people who contact us when an install fails.
  4. To eliminate delays from, “My install failed. Help me!” support tickets, which we can’t do anything about without extra information.

To achieve this, my user experience goals are that:

  1. It’s clear to users what to do, no matter what their situation.
  2. The user doesn’t need to scan or read a whole dialog to do things.
  3. It is a friendly and familiar experience instead of intimidating.
  4. The information we need to help a client is sent to us when things fail.

I decided that a better approach would be to use a chatbot to guide clients through a more elaborate set of choices. Instead of a step-by-step wizard, it is a friendly little expert system, which can freely jump around to deal with different cases.

Another part of UX design and project management is maintaining documentation so all stakeholders and developers have clear guides on what is going on. Just to get an idea of the scope of the solution, here is a screenshot of the flowchart that documents the flow in new setup design.

Blue = User Choices. Yellow = User Input / Info. Grey = Compute. Red = Error Options.

To see the difference between the wizard style and the chat style, consider the first screen clients are presented with when they want to add a domain.

In the wizard style, there is a lot of reading to do to decide which choice to make. It also doesn’t explicitly cover every option, unless the client has enough knowledge to work out what to do in certain situations.

Which option do you choose if you have a site-builder website hosted on a service like Wix?

By contrast, here’s an early mockup of the same screen in the new chatbot design. It’s friendly, has a natural flow, and 1/3rd the text. Instead of having to work out which choice a client needs to choose, it clearly provides the main options, and can lead people with special circumstances to the right choice with follow-up questions.

The new chatbot design. Now, things are pretty clear.

The current installer was made before chatbots were everywhere and succeeds in removing a very significant barrier to entry. Most people can install and use Tracker.ly without technical knowledge.

The new design follows a well-known and easy to understand format and will remove additional barriers to entry. It will no longer be intimidating or confusing, it will be easier for the client to follow, and when the installer fails, it will offer to create a support ticket with a single click.

This last part is also important. Instead of emailing FTP details into a support ticket, clients will have the option to automatically create a ticket, which will link to an encrypted copy of their FTP details in a database. We’ll decrypt that while manually setting up their domain and delete the record when complete, without losing the support ticket. (Part of UX is also figuring out how the back-end works and how it ties into the front-end.)

The end result should be a higher percentage of people getting to the “ah-ha” moment of seeing their tracking links increasing brand recognition of their website, while also getting higher click-through rates because of using informative and descriptive links on their trustworthy looking domains.

And that’s what good user experience design is all about.

What do you think?