Commercial (mis)use of ergonomics

A couple of months ago insurance company AXA was building its new website.

During the transition period, a screen was shown, explaining the different changes planned to be integrated in the new site.

One of the five key points was: “Innovating ergonomics and a simplified navigation”.

Commercial (mis)use of ergonomics

Since I am passionate about my work, I couldn’t wait for the new site to go online and discover these ‘innovating ergonomics’.

So, on February 17, when the new site was live, I visited it in detail.

Having worked previously for the insurance sector, I simply tried to realise 5 priority scenarios, as they had been defined for other missions: “A manager wants to contract an insurance against loss by fire for his new property. He wants to consult the tariffs online and decides to visit three different websites.”

The homepage profusely worked on the ‘wow effect’ so it took me some time to understand the content and to simply find what I was looking for.

Coming onto another page, I used the navigation menu on the left to go the products ‘Living, family and hobbies’. There, I stumbled upon a navigation menu that was really difficult to use.

Commercial (mis)use of ergonomics

All the choices that have been made go against the basic scientific principles used in behavioural sciences:

  1. The menu is composed of 38 items, presented in 14 different labels. It therefore requires a great cognitive and perceptive effort.
  2. The formats used for the title products (Habitation, Famille, Loisirs) are the same as those used for the “Dossiers / Guides” and the “Devis / Simulations”. This gives the brain the impression these elements are comparable, which in reality is not the case.
  3. The words used to denominate the different topics are interchangeable which makes it hard to choose the right link.
  4. The matrix structure creates vertical and horizontal reading behaviour which prevents focused reading and leads to a chaotic ocular behaviour.

User behaviour is one of the essential weapons to differentiate oneself from the competition. However, more and more, companies and / or agencies use the terms used by our profession in an attempt to legitimise work that is far from the quality work one may expect from an expert in behavioural sciences.

The future has always belonged to those who passionately and fastidiously assimilated and/or developed state-of-the-art technology, which goes far beyond mere words. This allows companies to recognize their talents as experts.

4 Comments

  • I absolutely agree. It looks like each business area fought for space on the home page resulting in chaos. However I would point out that many sites in French are more complex and less focussed than their counterparts in other European languages (axa.ie, axa.co.uk). I often wonder why this happens as there is no shortage of talented French designers and developers, many working in UK and Ireland.

  • I completely agree. However, I think many times such things happen not because they aim to deceive or are using a catch phrase, but because the designers in question are simply ignorant. They base their design on a personal “common sense” approach which ends up not working.

    Such inadvertent self-sabotage can happen behind the scenes even when the right professional is on board. A company realizes that user experience is important, so they hire someone with expertise in perception and cognition, user research and testing, information science, etc. That’s where the effort stops, because once hired, the company has no idea how to integrate such a person into the design process. And yet, they imagine they are thinking in a user-forward manner simply because they hired a UX person.

    Transforming a company culture by one’s self can be a long, difficult, and occasionally impossible task, but I have the suspicion there are many such capable but disenfranchised UX professionals out there.

  • I absolutely agree and add to that the economics and shove of the time constraints and you have a real toxic mix of individuals doing the best they can without the expertise. ( satisfiable) ….and that is what is out there…

  • I have to agree as well. I have found, particularly in the heightened competitive insurance market, companies often focus somewhat myopically on speed to market rather than effective design. And even if they have resources in place who understand the value of ‘the user experience’ there is often an absence of effective processes to execute on best practices. Without consistent process, iterative testing and feedback from customers, the answers that will give companies the competive advantage in the marketplace they’re trying to achieve, remain unindentied. Like others passionate about usability and designing for target markets that will yield expected ROI, I too get frustrated when I know how close the answers are for many companies. But I’m not giving up and will keep encouraging companies to pause long enough to hear the answers.

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