We’re house hunting in South Africa at the moment and we’ve tried just about every property website there is. We’ve seen some shockers, and we’ve been surprised by some very good, usable web design.
When you compare the best performer with the worst offenders, it does highlight how making your website usable really is a very good idea if you want to deliver a worthwhile return on your investment.
Compare these search engine interfaces from the the homepages of…
Ask yourself a simple question: How quickly can you work out what to do with interface number 1? And what about number 2?
Ah, Remax. Why are some suburbs in dark blue with [All] written next to them? What is the suburb filter box for? Will you remember to hold down CTRL to select multiple suburbs? Which parts of step 2 will light up when? What “payment type” will you select – can you pay in bushelss of corn?
The Remax functionality is all good. Those are all criteria that users might want to filter by at some point. But most people won’t want to set most of those criteria most of the time. And providing a huge control panel to let people do all that stuff at the beginning is just bewildering and off-putting for most normal house hunters.
A couple of key lessons that good designers have known for years:
1. Don’t ask people to set search scope before when they are entering their search query. If people want to search for something, let them type it in and see how many results there are. Then when the necessity of narrowing the search becomes apparent, people will feel motviated to go to the trouble of doing so. Proprty Genie gets this right. A simple search first, supported with solid geaopgraphical data that matched my desired suburb on the first attempt. Then simple filtering controls that get shown after you’ve seen the initial search results.
2. Make easy things easy and difficult things possible. In other words, design for the main things that people want to do and make those things very, very easy. Then add the “edge case” functionality in low priority places where it won’t clutter things up.
Remax have put up an interface that ignores these two basic interaction design patterns. And as a result, I’m sure they are missing out on a lot of traffic and a lot of business. There’s a lesson for every website owner in there somewhere.
Property Genie goes on do display some fairly usable sort controls too.
These controls show you (a) that you can sort and (b) what you can sort by. Nice. (I’m struggling to tell which radio butotn goes with which label though).
If Property Genie granted me three wishes, though, I’d ask for larger property pictures and a click through to the agent’s own site for more details.
The third wish would be a lovely villa on Clifton Beach. But that’s another story.