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Optimise to Win, Pt 9: Be Natural – User expectations & how to exceed them.

Note: this is the ninth of our multi-part Optimise to Win series, where we show you how the best businesses get more conversions than their competition.

Since the internet’s inception, websites have established and been refining standard ‘norms’ of the website interface. Users have developed expectations about how things are supposed to work, and when we break too far from these norms, users become confused and unsure about what to do. The study of these expectations and best practices is called Usability and is an integral part of User Experience testing.

Do users notice usability?

When crafted correctly, sites with excellent usability give users a sense of delight. At the very least, a site with a focus on usability provides users with a sense of relief.

Usability that goes beyond the norm gets users excited about the site — it gives them a sense of empowerment and productivity when all actions they are accustomed to taking are honoured on the website.

Great usability drastically improves conversion rates, user satisfaction, repeat visits, and the likelihood of users recommending a site to friends.

Don’t we want creative designs?

As we saw in Part 4, sites rated as “highly prototypical” (using common design patterns) and simple design were ranked as most beautiful across all categories. Why do users prefer sites with typical design structure? Because they are familiar with it. Exposure to a stimulus makes someone more comfortable with it than if it is new to them.

However, following prototypical design patterns does not imply a lack of creativity in design. Consider the familiar design patterns to be a medium for creativity that is far more effective than other possible media. Users appreciate familiarity as well as creativity, so long as they are complementary.

In design, we need to meet users’ expectations while maintaining a laser-focus on the mutually beneficial actions they want to take.

When should we follow standards instead of coming up with our own solutions?

Usability experts at NN Group have agreed upon the following guidelines:

  • If 80% or more of the big sites do things in a single way, then this is the de-facto standard and you have to comply. Only deviate from a design standard if your alternative design has at least 100% higher measured usability.
  • If 50-79% of the big sites do things in a single way, then this is a strong convention and you should comply unless your alternative design has at least 50% higher measured usability.
  • If less than 50% of the big sites do things in a single way, then there are no dominant conventions yet and you are free to design in an alternative way. Even so, if there are a few options, each of which are used by at least 20% of big sites, you should limit yourself to choosing one of these reasonably well-known designs unless your alternative design has at least 25% higher measured usability than the best of the choices used by the big sites.

What is the process of ensuring usability?

  1. Determine what actions and paths your users should/will take.
  2. Learn what expectations they have about these actions & paths, related design elements, and capabilities.
  3. Implement in as user-intuitive way as possible.
  4. Test with real users in real situations.
  5. Improve & repeat cycle.

Case Study did not follow standard eCommerce design patterns before its revamp in October 2012.


This version of the site employed a dark colour scheme, cluttered design, unclear navigation, no standout calls to action, no real emphasis on their primary selling point (the image of multiple ties does not emphasise their skinnyness), and a very non-prototypical design for eCommerce. At first glance, it’s hard to tell that it’s even a shop, and there are no individual products visible.


With the revamp, users immediately know what the site is about, what its selling point is, and where they should go (whether they’re interested in a particular style, accessories, or whatnot). Furthermore, with the bright, active colour scheme and extensive negative space in the design, users feel free to browse at leisure and appreciate the product instead of hunkering down to try to find the one they want, relieving user stress. Using a very prototypical eCommerce design, with the cart easily visible in the header, categories & filters easy to find, and products prominently displayed, users are immediately familiar with the site and find it more beautiful and comfortable.

The results were exceptional:

Redfox Media always makes a point to craft every design with a keen eye for usability and going beyond user expectations. We know that usability makes the difference between a great website and an unusable one.

Sources: Cognitive FluencyFamiliarity Effect, SkinnyTies

For more, check out our other Optimise to Win posts:

At Redfox Media, we employ all of these methods and strategies for clients in our Online Accelerator program. Enquire now to discuss how we can help your business, and get a FREE SEO report! 

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