Your Site is an Island. Your Users are LOST (Season 1)

March 26, 2013 | Katie Templin & Catharine Robertson

Your Site is an Island

As IA’s, we often have to step back and try to imagine our client’s world through their eyes… and their users’ eyes… at the same time. It can get a little trippy and more than a little dramatic at times. To lighten the mood, we, Catharine and Katie, decided to apply a slightly different lens to our practice. What if, rather than imagine them as real people, we tried to imagine users as characters on a TV show? We quickly realized that certain TV shows contain user personas instructive to—or at the least entertaining us during—our work as information architects. If a TV show is a website, then its characters are the site’s users. Got it?

We’re starting with LOST (Season 1)

We landed on LOST because I, Katie T., am just now catching up to 2004 and watching the first season. Yes, I know –how retro of me. Because I have only finished the first season of LOST, that’s all we (Catharine and I) will be focusing on here. Please don’t go all spoiler on us, talking about the Smoke Monster and how seasons three and four are not as good as seasons one and two. Yes, I have ears. Just because I haven’t watched all five seasons doesn’t mean I’ve been living under a rock. That said, I’d still like some of the LOSTness to remain intact for my upcoming Netflix marathons.

You with us? Let’s do this.

The plane

The plane is Google. No one understands how or why it ended up on the island, but it did, bringing 40 something survivors along with it, who now have no idea where they are or what to do. All they want is to get off the island. How do you keep them there?

Jack

Jack is a pain in the butt. He’s constantly diagnosing your problems and writing to you (and Twitter and Facebook) to tell you how to fix them. It’s annoying, but it’s helpful. It’s annoying BECAUSE it’s helpful. Jack knows his stuff. You should listen to Jack.

Sawyer

He wants all of your value but is willing to give you nothing in return. Why can’t he download all of your whitepapers without filling out a form? He’s the reason your email distro list is full of names like Crystal Light, Ben Dover, and Ivanna Buttkiss.

Kate

Kate is a fugitive… from another site. A competitor’s site.  Kate seems like a great user – she spends tons of time on your site, would rather kiss you than torture you to get what she wants, and she’s always adding items to her cart. But she’s also spending a ton of time on your competitor’s site. And those shoes she likes have been sitting in her shopping cart for weeks. Will she ever actually buy anything? Will she ever decide between you and Sawy… I mean your competitor?

John Locke

Locke is a dream user. He has the zealotry of a new convert.  He thinks the web is a wonder. Whatever you throw at him – the bugs, error messages, missing alt tags – has a purpose. Your site got hacked and now his personal information is out in the wild, waiting for some identity thief to take it and run? John’s okay with that; it’s a sacrifice the island demanded.  It doesn’t matter what obstacles he encounters; he’ll find a way to get to the information he wants. John is a rare breed.

Sayid

Sayid is a reformed 4chan troll. He regrets his past but cannot completely escape it. He’s also tech savvy. He knows when something’s broken and that if he bugs you enough about it, that it’ll eventually get fixed. Sayid will Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and contact form bomb you until you fix the issue. However, once it’s fixed and he gets what he needs, he can’t bring himself to come back to your site. He knows he annoyed you and the guilt is killing him.

Shannon

Shannon goes straight to the search box. If it were possible, she wouldn’t even do that – she’d have someone else type the search term in for her. And she doesn’t want to call you. She wants you to call her. In fact, could you just sense when she needs help and send someone to her house? Preferably someone young, cute, and male?  K, thanks.

Jin

Jin is an edge case. You don’t really have to worry about him… or do you?

Just in case, you might want to look at your analytics to see if you have a high percentage of non-native English speakers using your site. If so, consider serving up translated content based on IP/geolocation. Or he might come after you with “a message to deliver.” And you don’t want that. Trust us.

Sun

You know what they say when you assume. Sun just called you out on it. What? All of your users fit a specific skills set and reading level? Wrong. Not Sun. She knows about alternative medicine AND speaks English. She’ll slap you across the face when you’re trying to help her and then tell you SHE was helping YOU. Boom. Mind (and statistics) blown.

Boon

Boon’s that bounce rate that you just can’t shake, no matter how hard you try. Sea Urchin needle or not, Boon’s gone and you’re not getting him back.

Hurley

Hurley is the eternal optimist. He will go on and on about your site, and how awesome it is. Everything’s perfect and usable and great. But then you sit down and watch him navigate your site. And he has no idea what he’s doing. He can’t complete the simplest of tasks. He’s the case study for what a user says he does and what he actually does are two very different things.

Claire

Claire is a perpetual first time user. Every time she uses the site, it’s like she’s never been there before. But she has. She just can’t remember.  Claire doesn’t use short cuts or bookmarks. She starts at the beginning each and every time. Things have to be clear and obvious. If she has to be trained to use your site, she’ll never find what she needs. Because she can’t remember, remember?

Charlie

Charlie is an (online shopping) addict. He’s just itching to buy something you’re selling. But he can’t. His new chippy is watching closely to see if he’ll slip up again. He’s sitting on your site, with a fully-loaded shopping cart and his credit card info saved, but can’t bring himself to press that “complete order” button. It’d be wrong. Claire would be disappointed. Now, if there were a good reason to press the button… like a huge sale or to save the world or something, maybe it’d be okay…

Michael

Michael is really determined to get off of your site. He will build a boat (TWICE) just for a chance to leave. And when he does leave, he’s taking Walt with him. And two other people, both of whom have been big contributors to your site’s success thus far.

Walt

You don’t know much about Walt. All you know is that he’s not a huge fan of the boat Michael’s building and he just might be able to kill birds…with his mind. So, on the plus side, he wants to stay on your site. On the con side, Michael’s determined to get him to leave. Oh, and he can kill birds WITH HIS MIND.

Rouseau

Rouseau is like one of those pop-up ads that seems to creep up out of nowhere. One minute you’re reading an article about the economy and all of a sudden you’re watching someone drink a protein shake. And it’s all because your mouse moved just a fraction of an inch to the right. Rouseau’s mysterious. She’s sneaky. She’s a nuisance and everyone eyes her with a bit of wariness.  Users know not to click on that ad in the corner. They avert their eyes and go on with their business. Yes, the ad’s intention might be honorable, but the end doesn’t justify the means. If you use shady tactics to trap or trick them into clicking your ad, your users will resent you for it. And then who’s going to help you get Alex back?

The Others

The Others are your competitors. They want to sneak in under the cover of night and kidnap your users. They know the island well – they spend time researching and navigating your site, improving on your shortcomings on their own site and mimicking your wins. They try to act, look, and speak like your users, but it’s all a ruse. They give a 5 star product a low score with a vague explanation of why. They’re just trying to put doubt in the minds of your users so they’re easier to steal away. You know very little about the Others, which is why they’re so dangerous. Competitive analysis is key.

The Big Question

So the big question that remains is not “will they ever get off of the island,” but rather, “do you really want them to?” And we’re pretty confident the answer is a resounding “No.” Not just because you want your users to love your site, but because four more seasons of island-dwelling means at least four more of these blogs to look forward to. And if that promise weren’t enough to keep you checking the TBG site every other day for a new blog post, we’re going to give you another reason: WINTER IS COMING. Dun dun duuuuuun. So make sure you stay on this side of the wall. We don’t want those wildlings to get to you before our next blog post does.

About the Authors

Katie Templin

I'm the Director of Digital Strategy & User Experience at TBG, and I like to watch TV. Ask me about the user experience of Netflix.

Catharine Robertson

I'm an Information Architect and Consultant with TBG, and I write and perform comedy in Baltimore.

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