Becoming Your User


There are not many opportunities for someone who works day-in-and-day-out with usability, marketing and design to look at a typical online engagement through the eyes of a consumer without all the filters and preconceptions of an industry professional.

I always like to take note of this when I can actually step out of shoes of a designer for an instant and be just a person with a browser trying to solve a problem.

My problem was this: I was looking for some web-based rental property management software.  I knew I wanted something affordable and web-based, and those were pretty much my only must-have’s.  After going through the process, I retraced my steps to see why I made the decisions I did. Not as a designer, but as a user, to see what compelled me to ultimately convert.


First, I had to find the options, so I naturally started Googling. I started with “rental property software.”  First link was to Quicken. I wanted something online so this was was out.  Bounce.  Next was to this site which I browsed for about a minute.  The offering wasn’t clear, the features weren’t obvious, and my patience was spent in less than 8 seconds.

An example site


I revised my keywords to “property management software,” which I then Googled and quickly found  Ok, #1 property management software, that seems pretty legit, or gets me interested at least.  The design does not stand out to me as anything amazing, in fact, I could probably nitpick it to pieces, but it has enough credibility to make me stay.
An example site
I’m a navigation hunter, so I choose “Products” and am faced with three options. I know what user I am and am transferred to a specific site focused just on that product.
An example site
On the page I see big icons with some clear benefits.  A little pre-school, but that’s ok.  And I’m not caring about kerning at this point or any of that. I see “Accept payments online” and think “That’s awesome, I didn’t know they could do that.” I also see a big free trial button. I don’t click it, but it makes me feel comfortable knowing it’s an option, despite clashing a bit with the CU gold going on here.  But whatever.
An example site
Next I’m on to features and I see a scannable list.  The bold headlines compete for my attention a bit (the designer is coming out now) but I can skim the features pretty easily.  I like what I see and I’m almost sold.  I don’t care about the artifact-ridden gradient in the header, the nav items with uneven vertical margins, I don’t even mind the stock icons. This site is doing done it’s job.


The next step is pricing.  I see two pricing tiers and I’m pleasantly surprised I’m in the cheaper one, and look at all the stuff I get!  I do notice the fine print about an extra charge to set up online pay, but I figure it’s a free trial, I can at least check it out. I’ve swallowed the lure and click the button to fill out the form.  Conversion achieved!
An example site


So the question is why I, a picky designer-type, quick to judge based on what I see, converted by a simple (and some-would say poorly designed) site?  Because design isn’t the point!  In this case it’s merely a vehicle for the offering, which is what I really cared about.

Now, that’s not to say the design had nothing to do with my decision.  Beyond basic readability, this site gave me enough confidence to exchange some profile info and my email for a trial.  It was logically assembled and fairly easy to use and placed few barriers in the way of my decision making.

However, would I have paid for a trial, all things being equal?  Hell no.  Not even for 99 cents.  Why is this, when it clearly has the solution I’m interested in?  Because it’s not a site like, a similar application for personal finance.  Mint is clearer, has more readily available information in a organized hierarchy and the site us loaded with credibility and logos.  I would pay to try mint out (even though it’s free as well) but my point is simply that the design factor is not always make or break, but can certain nudge someone like myself to reach for their Visa a lot sooner.