The ‘Coffee Break’ design philosophy: UI for Small Businesses

At Lexity, we’ve spent years talking with small businesses, understanding how they run their businesses. These lessons have been valuable to us in building our Advertising on Autopilot solution, and are instructive for all startups building tools and services for this market. In this occasional blog series, I’ll talk about a few of these lessons.

TL;DR: SMB products should be built such that your users can interact with it on their mobile devices, in 15-minute chunks of time.

The Time Fragmentation Problem

Inbox Overload a problem for ya? Try being in a small businessperson’s shoes for a day.

SMB managers are typically slammed with a hundred things vying for their attention. Most of these, unfortunately, are time-critical; so tackling them one at a time isn’t an option. Managers spend all day working on many things in parallel. With multitasking a given, most tasks get less than 15 minutes of their attention at a time – if they’re lucky!

This means any product built for SMBs needs to account for this time fragmentation problem.

No more than a Coffee Break

Having observed this phenomenon across many small businesses, we distilled the lesson into a simple rule – no interaction with Lexity should take longer than a coffee break. This seemingly simple mantra had rippling implications on the entire user experience, and in many cases the core product – not just the UI.

‘No interaction with Lexity’… 

We assume that the average user session with Lexity will be less than 15 minutes long. This includes the first-use scenario – when the user has come to the Lexity website for the very first time ever. Sure, they might have the best intentions to spend a few hours researching this great automated marketing solution, but they’ll probably be pulled away after a few minutes by the next fire.

First, we followed some elaborate design principles to design a UI that is effective at disseminating information (the primary goal). Sure, it might look beautiful, but trust us, that was not the primary design consideration.

Second, we made sure we had an email escape hatch whenever things were taking long – not just for one interaction, but longitudinally, looking at an entire sequence of events leading to task completion.

Indeed, this applies even to the signup process – which can be completed entirely, including entering your credit card, within a few minutes. Anything that is not essential to the signup can be entered later on. Checkpoints are automatically saved, and reminder emails are sent after every major step is completed, so you can always jump back into the setup process, instead of starting afresh.

Third, after they’re signed up, actions that are critical for their success are pushed to them aggressively – with screamingly loud email subject lines that read ‘ACTION REQUIRED’. Our experience with SMBs teaches us that critical work sometimes gets missed in the daily grind; and sometimes it’s our responsibility to reach out over the din.

…’no longer than a coffee break’

We built a very extensive, but simple, interaction around Tasks. Everything that seemed like it would take more than 15 minutes of time to complete was broken down into smaller, bite-sized Tasks for the managers to complete.

Many of these tasks required fundamental changes to way our backend was written, but those are the breaks. No one said building a product for SMBs was going to be easy!

Not just actions – Dashboards too

One common mistake startups make is assuming their customers will have the time to check out their spiffy little Dashboards. Unfortunately, if your customers don’t have time to complete critical tasks that can increase their ROI, build their businesses, or make them more successful; how much time do you think they have to enjoy all that great numerical, visual, real-time data?

Not much, unfortunately. For that reason, we built even our Dashboard and Live View for quick consumption. Only the most critical filtering and sorting options are presented, even though they are trivial to implement technically.

Mobile devices are perfect for bite-sized consumption

Increasingly, managers are using their mobile devices to squeeze in more work while on the go – while in the bank queue or waiting for dinner to arrive.

Which is why it’s important to make sure your product works well on mobile devices – on the web, or as an app. In particular, if you make ‘tasks’ easily navigable on the mobile devices, it’s more likely they’ll get done faster, than if users have to login to a PC to get to them.

The ‘Coffee Break’ Design Philosophy: not only for SMBs

As it turns out, all of our attention spans have shrunk dramatically in the last 50 years. If you design your product to be consumed on the go, with interruptions taken for granted, and consumable in bite-sized chunks, you’re more likely to get adoption.

Get those SMB customers!



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