User experience: a brutally honest analysis


Operators of online platforms know that there is always room for improvement no matter where. Being self-critical is an initial path to doing things better – but an external perspective is often the better route to take.

Every day UX Experts deals with digital application aspects and enhances these in terms of user-friendly structure, design and content. These are higher-level analyses, where user experience (UX) impact and in-store usability are considered. This is all about performance in terms of benefits, acceptance, trust and appeal.

A second level goes into more technical detail and considers the functional components of the offering: visual design and branding, content and storytelling, information and conversion design, interface design and information architecture. Both levels combined generate an overall perception of the store.

UX expert Jessica Salver, CEO of UX Experts, a manymize GbR company, is running the rule over online print industry platforms on behalf of beyondprint and examining to what extent these platforms really focus on users or whether they treat them more as footnotes and provide sources of inspiration for enhancements.

To kick off, Jessica Salver conducted a brutally honest analysis of Saxoprint’s online print store. The full analysis appeared in the fourth issue of “beyondprint unplugged”. Here we are publishing an abridged version.

People behind the passion

“Where print meets passion” is the promise that needs to be kept. The Saxon company’s tagline creates an interesting symbiosis of technology and the human touch. A good starting point. And this particular emotiveness does indeed shine through in certain places in the store too. However, these remain just brief glimmers of hope. This means that Saxoprint is squandering potential in terms of utilizing stories, people and emotions to differentiate its offering.

The homepage is often the first point of contact with the user. Even regular users utilize it to access the store and place their print product orders. So, it is all the more surprising that neither is the user given support and proactively guided to the products (technical term: digitalized specialist advice), nor are new contacts familiarized with the company. At least not in the visible part of the browser.

“Where print meets passion” briefly shines through on the homepage. Fascinating images show how humans interact with technology. Source: Saxoprint

To do that, the user has to scroll right down to the bottom of the page in order to locate content about the people and technology at Saxoprint. This is the first place where people (passion) and machines (technology) are shown interacting. It’s not until the user reaches the depths of the homepage that the “Where print meets passion” tagline is actually shown as a living reality (see above image).

Authentic images from inside the company, superb machinery and people concentrating on their work all convey passion as well as precision and thus generate a profound sense of credibility: this is where I can and want to get my print products printed! These guys take their company as seriously as I do mine.

But why is this kind of storytelling not consistently communicated on all pages? This content does indeed feature in the Company section (“About us”) – concealed in the depths of the information architecture. Why can’t users get to know the people behind the passion straightaway? Wouldn’t it be cool if I knew that “Peter” is currently operating the press that’s printing my flyer? And even if this level of detail is not feasible – it would give me the feeling that that’s how it is!

Adhere consistently to the tagline!

That’s the reason for the plea to adhere to the tagline in a consistent and genuine way. That’s because it promises “Where print meets passion” – and that means that users want to see two things: technological excellence (and therefore really great print products) and people with passion, who direct the technology down the right channels.

Don’t they do that? Is this just a romantic notion, because it’s all a fully automated process? But I the user don’t care at all! I like buying into the idea that my job is being processed by passionate people with a great deal of human experience operating really cool technology. I love buying into the feeling of being able to trust and believe the company.

That’s because the images are genuinely impressive! Well-ordered, modern production facilities and printing presses that look more like something to do with space flight or science fiction. But then this is unfortunately followed by a series of pages that don’t express any passion for the company, the work it does or its products. And that is a seriously missed market positioning opportunity.

Yet the rudiments are shining through all over the place! Only they tend to be like glowworms that appear sporadically. Not like a bright spotlight that specifically lights up the Saxoprint brand and gives it a presence on the print market stage.

The page is too cluttered

Another optimization point to mention: the homepage consists of countless units of information. Where is the user proactively guided to the products? Where do they get specialist advice – ideally in partially digitalized form? How can the customer rapidly access suitable products?

Sorry, but the homepage is too cluttered. It’s no fun to navigate around! Here a guided introduction to the product portfolio could perhaps help the customer find the product they require quicker, and as a form of digitalized specialist advice would benefit the company’s positioning.

Currently you can’t identify any guided first steps in user journeys. The products only occur “below the fold”. A better idea would be to focus consistently on different access points, for example specialist advice with contact details, chat etc., in order to find suitable products quickly and easily. Or an advisory tool that guides the user to suitable products by simply answering questions. But the user is abandoned in the virtual showroom. There’s a better way of doing this – consistent user guidance and prioritization of content are called for!

The “specialist advice” teaser is given a great deal of prominence. The heavily accentuated button implies the key importance of this topic, but this is not backed up after clicking on the button. Instead of detailed information about specialist advice, the link takes you to the homepage of the Company section. However, the specialist advice topic is not explained there either. As a user you feel lost. That significantly devalues the accentuation of the specialist advice service purportedly being provided.

The design of the button also varies within the teaser and it doesn’t follow any discernable logic. That may appear to be a minor detail, but it all quickly adds up and makes the page look all over the place. Recommendation: clear rules for light and dark teasers.

On the homepage there are too many elements vying for the attention of the user. No single element takes the user by the hand. Basically, why not? And the non-uniform teaser design also makes the page look all over the place. Source: Saxoprint

Display important company information

Presales or confidence-building information is currently spread out in different places. Important information like “Saxoprint Benefits” is only available after scrolling and in its entirety only on a few store pages. That makes the company dependent on the curiosity of users and to a certain extent on coincidence. That’s a pity, because the benefits are really well structured and provide a great overview.

An attention-grabbing banner above the header includes three benefits in bullet-point format. However, the user can’t access any further details. Just a telephone number is provided there as a contact option. The user only finds all the other available channels – including the contact option via social media – when (or if) they check out the “Service & Contact” section.

What is also irritating is that really interesting data and facts have been banished to the footer: 700 dedicated print experts, 20 years of experience and production facilities the size of 3.3. soccer pitches – that is information that sends out a message of credibility and trust. That is why it doesn’t belong in the basement but at the entrance!

The banner with the USPs (in the image to the left above the logo) could be conceptually enhanced and utilized as a central, cross-page source of information. It would be possible to pool all relevant buying information using an expand mechanism. The user is thus provided with all the information that conveys a sense of credibility, reliability and expertise at a glance, as well as with immediate access to advice via the channels of their choice – whenever required and from every page.

Key information that impacts on buying decisions is concealed in the lower section of the homepage. Why is that? You stick your best bits in the shop window and not in the basement. Source: Saxoprint

Standardize category pages

To some extent the category pages include very representational images of print products. These are very appealing and high-quality – you can see the passion coming through again.

The first category, “Print Products”, is however extremely confusing from a user’s perspective. At the top of the page there are two teasers – one for Print Products, the other for Promotional Items. But didn’t I just click on Print Products? Why do I have to click on that again? And why does the second teaser take me to Promotional Items? I am not interested in these at all.

The page obviously represents a mixture of category page for classic print products and general product catalog (only for the Print Products and Promotional Items categories, however). This structure tends to confuse the user. Especially as the two teasers are not hyperlinked to other pages, as the design suggests, but perform the role of anchor links and reference content on the page currently being viewed. The listing of products in alphabetical order is not repeated on any other category page. This display format is also confusing and to some extent difficult for non-expert users to understand.

Illustrations or real images?

Things look better on the other category pages – example products are showcased in a very visually appealing and upscale way in the header image. The products listed beneath that feature lovingly created illustrations. But here too we would also employ real images and use the icons just for support purposes. What would be even better is if the user could view a brief product description, which outlines the most important product applications and characteristics, on request. They could then dispense with clicking on the relevant product page and get their bearings quickly and easily.

Interestingly enough, real product photos are used as preview images in the “Promotional Items” and “Clothing” categories. Of course, both categories involve images of real, representational products. But that shouldn’t stop a passionate print provider from thinking visually as far as its print products are concerned.

When purchasing their print product, the customer is not only buying a functional printing service but also hopes for recognition and success. The best references for each print product may not show the customer fully what their print product will actually look like. This transfer enhances the print product considerably – it is then more than just a printing service; it becomes an emotional product that helps the customer to promote their company as well as wow, motivate and convince their own customers.

Alternative points of access are missing

What is missing in all the categories analyzed are alternative points of access to the offering. Where, for example, am I provided with the specialist advice that is billed on the homepage? The user actually has to click their way through the wide range of possible products. If they don’t know what they require, then they are all at sea.

Here too an alternative point of access focusing on customer needs would be better. For example, by guiding the user through a sequence of questions and via a concealed decision tree to related products. A mechanism of this kind can already be digitally modelled using simple chatbots. In an overall context, dialog-driven provision of advice to the customer would reflect the company’s values superbly and would reinforce the promise of specialist advice.

Product pages: the brand needs to be a living reality

I get things printed, because I use print products to pursue emotional objectives. I want to promote my company effectively. I wish to communicate my passion to my customers through Saxoprint products. And to achieve that, I require passionate product communication that gives me confidence in the services provided.

What do you get instead? Product pages that look like digitalized fax forms. These can be actioned more effectively by using example print products, for instance. Or references that make you want to place an order and that demonstrate expertise, passion and technological excellence!

The user needs to be taken by the hand and guided through the buying process. Not a thousand sequential form checkboxes but a dialog-like survey that simulates a consultation. Both ultimately do the job, but only the second format constitutes a genuine experience and specialist advice in practice.

And generally speaking, product pages must feature prioritized, ordered content and elements; they need to be systematically tidied up and duplications must be avoided.

Above all, the brand with all its “Where print meets passion” stories needs to come across as a living reality on the product pages. These particular product pages are currently nothing more than digitalized fax forms. Technically speaking, they may be just that too. But that is irrelevant from a user experience perspective. Customers are not interested in the technology and its limitations. Customers want to have a credible impression that they are having really great print products made for them, which fulfil their pressing needs, wants and hopes, conveyed to them.

That’s why every product page should ensure that it’s Saxoprint products that the customer wants, because they find the company so awesome and appealing, and because it has already printed really mint, premium solutions for other customers.

Company pages tell stories

As a rule, the Company page is the page where stories are told and where insights and prospects are provided. This is where you find out the hard data and facts, the technical details and about the people in the company.

Unfortunately, you don’t find that out at first glance, but instead after a long search. The deeper the user immerses themselves in the Company page, the more insights they gain into the company and the people behind it. Why is this interesting content concealed and not shown much earlier?

Elements like the layer with information about individual corporate divisions could also be incorporated every so often in other pages. At any rate, the depth of information and that human touch are a positive surprise!

For that reason, dear Saxoprint team, be bold and put all your fascinating content and insights on the very first Company page. That gives users the opportunity of getting to know Saxoprint at a glance in just a few clicks. That’s because what’s on the subpages is really good, fascinating stuff!

My take: once again the devil is in the detail. There are a whole load of great basic approaches and sources of inspiration in Saxoprint’s store that could seriously be enhanced with a bit of courage and investment in more UX design and storytelling. The Saxoprint store therefore suffers the same affliction as most other online print stores – little to no user guidance, not very well-thought-out interface design and a scant to barely perceptible passion for its own print products. In general, simply too little is made in the online print sector (not just at the Saxoprint site) of the opportunities provided by modern communications media. Not for the sake of gimmicks, but because online and mobile are increasingly becoming closely interlinked. The good news is that all these details can be worked on systematically.

User experience: a brutally honest analysis
Article Name
User experience: a brutally honest analysis
Operators of online platforms know that there is always room for improvement no matter where. Being self-critical is an initial path to doing things better – but an external perspective is often the better route to take.
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Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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