Amazon UX, a story of “violation” and…bikes.

For teaching purposes, I was tasked with identifying three amazon features and suggesting possible changes.
So I chose to :
– buy a bicycle
– add a payment method
– check the tracking of a product
So I started step by step to execute the first purchase scenario by introducing the search string and displaying the results.

Well, so many times I have (you have) used amazon and yet I never realized how many violations of the most basic UX principles there are in the amazon site.
(I guess Donald Norman only goes to the local market 😀 )
A site full of things to read and see, full of conditions full of tiny photos and purchase conditions, in short, a big uncontrolled mess!

In my experience as a designer (first) and then as a UXer I’ve never seen an interface so full of text and absurd colors (and with some bugs too).

An interface in which during the purchase process I see the “suggestions” of the books I bought before.
An interface where under the pre-purchase summary I get hints of what I still have to pay for or what I’ve chosen or a plethora of other useless stuff.

Below the “Go to Checkout” can I put suggestions? (why not!)

Simply amazing!

All the UX mentors in the world teach and demand to keep the checkout process as straightforward, simple, clean, and immediate as possible. Who would ever authorize such a confusing interface?

But that’s not enough! Out of habit and to understand trends I often consult the portfolios of colleagues at “apple style” with the latest pixel-perfect design, empty of any content but illustrated in a fantastic way (…maybe just to sell cactus in Mexico).

So what? I asked myself why does this work? I have a (technical and moral) duty to understand “why amazon” and why amazon works.

My fellow UXers, if you’ve come this far for an answer, I’m going to try to give you one:
all this is held up not by business (in fact amazon’s interface has always sucked and always will…I think) but it is held up only by user motivation.
A fantastic, mysterious force that is hidden only within “us”.

I try to explain myself: when I go to amazon I am not there “for amazon”, but I am there for my bike. I am there for the amazing outdoor rides with my kids or friends. I am there for the deal I was told “to do on amazon”, to “see on amazon”.

Everyone says “see on amazon!”, and… “I got it on Amazon”.
All this motivation grew from the first moment I thought “bicycle”.

Are you sure to buy it? (please read all the stuff and you will be…)

So when I arrive on the landing page of amazon I, the user, put myself in the condition of “I can’t be the only one who can’t find things on amazon”.

My attention is maximized, my senses are at a thousand, my eyes are wide open, my desire is at its maximum, my desire for a bicycle is sky high, the offer of bicycles is infinite, …. I had to resist and …. find that damn bicycle I want!

(That’s what happened to me and I finally found it 🙂 ).

I’ll call it “the Amazon effect”

The moral? When I design an interface I have to understand something that is not easy to understand.
How much of the “Amazon effect” can I have when the marketing guy asks me to slip in another “useless” banner or suggestion?
How much “amazon effect” can I ask my user for when I have to stick another tiny sales condition on the screen?
How much motivation does my target have?

It will be different if I design an interface to pay taxes than if I design an interface to buy my favorite book or find my soulmate. But beware, despite amazon’s staggering business our “commandment table” should never be 100% violated; never abused to the fullest.
Do not “AMAZON” your interface: you are not amazon!
So stay clean and honest. Carry on the sound principles of accessibility and fairness (as much as you can). Fight marketing and business head-on when you’re in business the best you can 😉
The user is our target but also the purpose of our work: we want to ensure that he arrives safe and sound and above all happy to have “traveled with us”.
Do not abuse the patience and motivation of users is one of our “rules”.
Never forget it.