Top of the Traps

Trap #10: Building a monument

November 25, 2019

In most digital projects we are trying to build services that your patrons want to use.

We have known for many years that users interactions on the internet are overwhelmingly task-driven. They have an outcome in mind, whether that’s a ticket, a customer service issue, confirmation of a piece of information, a subscription, whatever. They want to take the shortest route possible to get that task done.

As internal stakeholders though, we really value what we do. Of course - it’s our chosen profession, hopefully the thing we’re most passionate about. And our organizations represent the aggregation of all that passion. So inevitably, whilst we start out trying to design great customer experiences we are liable to overestimate how invested the end user is in our organisation at that moment, and to start believing that the user is here to find out more about us, in an abstract sense.

Before you know it, you’ll see that efforts have subtly shifted from helping our users to succeed, toward building a monument to our organisation. There are certain tell-tale phrases that I look out when I think we might be transitioning into building a monument. One of them is

“There’s so much we do here that we just don’t talk about.”

Do you know what the archetype of this is? It’s that sad Education or In the Community section, where we list all of the programs we run in one place; even though each of those programs is specifically targeted at a different end-user profile, and there are limited opportunities to engage digitally with those programs.

Another way this trap manifests is in redundant top-level navigation. When we start to see our digital assets as monuments to the organisation, navigation becomes about exploring all of the facets of the organization, rather than facilitating the common tasks that users are trying to achieve. This results in navigation where 80% of the traffic is verifiably directed to just one of the seven top-level navigational items. I’ll come back to this.

Congratulations - You Played Yourself

Some tactics to prevent you from building a monument:

  1. At the start of the project as well as agreeing objectives agree those things that are your anti-objectives. We are not setting out to build a monument to the organisation. Every time you’re about to add a requirement to a backlog, ask yourself - are we building a monument? Encourage your team to ask that question, and give kudos for resisting the sentiment.

  2. Find more appropriate outlets for this content. Your organization’s history probably makes for a very worthwhile Wikipedia entry and it’s a better trusted source for people who are genuinely interested. Personally, if I’m researching a topic I skip the official site, and go straight to the Wikipedia entry that is usually to be found at SERPs position 2. Because I know what I’m going to get. Go wild on Wikipedia. No-one’s stopping you. If you need to compile an overview of all the great work you do, because this content is targeted at a very specific end-user - eg, a charitable trust, then create a document, or a video especially and send it to them. There’s nothing to stop you from linking out to both of these assets from your digital project.

  3. Obviously, if you have a heritage lottery fund to fund a digital archive project, building a monument is the objective, so you can cheerfully ignore everything I’ve just said. In fact do the opposite.

Trap #10 Building a Monument
Trap #9 100% Digital Coverage
Trap #8 Divide & Conquer
Trap #7 Designing for your CEO’s smartphone
Trap #6 False Prophets
Trap #5 Post-it Fetishism
Trap #4 Building not Buying
Trap #3 Buying not Bodging
Trap #2 Bogus User Stories
Trap #1 Cutting Against the Grain