neon sign saying "this must be the place"
PHOTO: Tim Mossholder

Just because something is used doesn’t mean that it is useful. Design decisions can create the wrong expectations and can send people on journeys that will end up in failure.

“To simplify the process for advisers, we introduced a ‘quick links’ box on the landing page of our benefits content,” Katherine Vaughan wrote in an article for Citizens Advice UK in May 2018. “The aim was to link to the most important content so advisers could find it quickly.”

There are very few navigational shortcuts through complexity. An old Japanese saying states: “No shortcuts today. I’m in a hurry.” There is a long history of attempting to separate the useful content from the less useful content on the web. Remember “Useful Links”? Well then what are the other links? Useless Links? What is the designer trying to say? Ignore the other stuff. Here’s the good stuff.

Then we had Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). So what does the other content do? Answer the infrequently asked questions? And, of course, if you call something Quick Links then that surely implies that the other links are Slow Links, doesn’t it? I mean, why would anyone choose a slow link when they have the option of choosing a quick link?

Which is exactly what happened at Citizens Advice. Quick Links quickly became a dirty magnet that attracted all sorts of clicks from all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. It became very popular in the same way that if you place a sign outside a pub that says “Free Beer,” that pub is going to become very popular.

Citizens Advice visitors absolutely loved Quick Links. “Everybody expected what they needed to be in there, whatever the scenario,” Vaughan explained. “When probed on the biggest priorities, our testers expected and wanted very different things from a ‘quick links’ feature. To meet the needs of such a diverse range of users, the ‘quick links’ would have grown to become a second A-Z function.”

These sort of links become websites within websites, promising everything and delivering much less. Based on evidence, Citizens Advice got rid of Quick Links. “Rather than trying to skip steps of navigation, we’re now focusing on making the navigation more intuitive,” Katherine states. “Although people liked ‘quick links’, we were able to find better ways to meet the need for quicker navigation. Our next round of testing has already shown that users are navigating the new structure more quickly and confidently.”

We must understand why something is happening, not just what is happening. Volume-based metrics are one of the worst possible ways to measure quality customer experience. In so many organizations I deal with, volume-based metrics are resulting in designs that frustrate and annoy customers. In an organization that only measure volume, “Quick Links” and other horrible design features would actually be seen as a success, and the organization would be seeking to compound the errors it was already making by introducing more “Quick Links.” 

If you are measuring only volume of activity on your website, you are as likely measuring the failure of your website, not its success.