Practising user-centred design can draw more customers and keep them coming back to a Web site, but it can also cut costs and boost revenue according to experts who have created interfaces that make navigation easier and improve the appeal of a site.

At an event held recently at IBM Canada’s

seventh annual Make IT Easy 2003 Toronto Software Lab, IBM customers and experts talked about how ease of use is critical in almost every aspect of doing business, but can be a struggle when IT tools are complex.

“”We invest in the currency of complexity. It is a constant push for us to demand simplicity. This is not about PhDs building products for PhDs. We need to understand the business value,”” said Herschel Harris, vice-president of WebSphere server development and director of the IBM Toronto Laboratory, speaking at the event.

At Amicus bank, a member of the CIBC group of companies, user interface designer Sonia Lancione and her team worked with IBM on the redesign of the President’s Choice Financial site, with a goal to streamlining the front end and backend by taking a user-centred design approach.

“”We wanted to reflect the same powerful offline brand with the online brand,”” said Lancione, user interface design manager at Amicus.

Lancione says the original site did not integrate with the PC Financial Family of sites and customers demanded more consistent navigation.

“”The users were more sophisticated and the site didn’t make use of updated design techniques. The site used frames which affected load times and printability,”” she said.

Amicus wanted to increase online banking registrations, deliver a better user experience and design a site that could grow with the business.

Lancione and her design team received user input throughout the redesign, and created plans on paper, including a site map and wire frames (a detailed schematic plan identifying issues up front) before building anything new.

Today, the site provides more opportunities for the bank to cross-sell to customers at an earlier stage of interaction.

“”We can now allow customers to sign up for many products at once. In the past they needed to open accounts individually and go back after each one was opened to do something else. Now they can open a savings account and opt for a line of credit at the same time,”” she said.

Changes to the Web site increased registration by 62 per cent — which translates into savings because fewer people use President’s Choice pavilions to do transactions. (Online bill payments increased by 51 per cent.)

The bank’s ranking in the quarterly Gomez online banking scorecard survey also went from 12th to fourth spot.

“”We were at the bottom of the scorecard a couple of years ago. We were just happy to make it there, but we wanted to improve those ratings.

“”Certainly, the scorecard was the means to get funding for redesigning the Web site, but the focus was always the user experience,”” she added.

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