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How to keep ahead of the game in an economic downturn

How to keep ahead of the game in an economic downturn

By Andrew Jamieson, Commercial Director at digital innovations specialists, Splendid, (

Depending on who you listen to it looks like we might be in for some tough times ahead. 

Economic growth is slowing, property prices are falling, mortgage rates are rising and the darkening clouds of recession are gathering.  If the American model is anything to go by this means consumers and businesses will soon be battening down the hatches to see through the heavy weather.

So what to do this year if you’re an online business? Cross your fingers and hope for the best, or join the rest of the offline economy in trying to drop costs and prices and keep you head down until the storm passes?

Whilst taking on a defensive stance is a common strategy in the high street, research suggests thinking smarter is what works in the online world.

Online enterprises are unique in that all customers visit businesses via a browser window which is theoretically identical across geographic and demographic user bases. This makes for a level playing field in which participants are fundamentally bound by the same parameters.

Within this small window competitors do not have the capacity to be bigger, brighter, louder, have more street frontage or be closer to home.  They can only be better than their competitors and it a time of financial uncertainty, this is key.

In this environment, it is clicks that count for users, and sites can be made or broken by how well they create a user experience online .These days, web users are experienced and knowledgeable. They no longer have to put up with bad design and when confronted with it they will quickly vote with their cursor.

The basics of user experience come down to interaction design; i.e. how you can create a complex technical system that customers find easy, engaging, and compelling. Visual design is important, but making something pretty counts for nothing if it doesn’t result in ‘sticky traffic’.

You already know the companies that have mastered interaction design because they dominate the top of internet tables. The BBC’s, Googles, Amazons, Facebooks, Ebays and Flickrs of this world are well versed in the art of user centred design and although they started with a viable business model, they have overtaken the hundreds of competitors in their space to get to the top of the tree.

As a result, they are more likely to be able to ride the wave of any impending recession.

Less obvious however are examples of how poor design can sink an idea just as quickly and in uncertain times, such businesses are at real risk. Probably the best known interaction design catastrophes in the online world is that of the ill-fated which went far too long on technology (and three dimensional spinning shoes) and far too short on usability.

There are thousands more where that came from, all united in the fact that you haven’t heard of them and they have either gone bust or are well on the way.

The failure of companies to pay heed to interaction design is all the more astounding when you realise it is one of the most cost effective investments an online business can make.

If you keep an eye on the big players you’ll notice they are making continual gradual improvements to their client interface to refresh and improve the customer experience.
As the economy slows and competition heats up this approach will significantly reduce business risk.

Done well investment in interaction design will deliver your business better results with less effort. In my agency’s eyes it’s a no brainer, especially in tough times. The only surprise to us is that it needs explaining.

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