How good website UX is like training a kitten

Hint: It’s all about trust and rewards.

Like many of you, I tried a new hobby during my unexpected extra time at home this summer. Instead of growing window scallions, I fostered a 6-week-old stray kitten. It turned out I was quite good at it, and I quickly saw overlaps with my day job as a UX consultant. So whether you’re training a kitten or redesigning your website, consider these helpful hints.


Know your audience.

I already had a bit of experience with kittens, but I also relied on Google, books and advice from friends. You have some ideas about your customers, but are you sure you’re solving their problems? Where can you do better? Ask them. More importantly, observe them as they use your products, contact your business or visit your website. Consult experts for broader understanding of your customers’ world. It’s probably in flux right now. Check your assumptions.


Make sure everyone benefits.

While I wanted to keep my rugs clean and curtains unshredded, my kitten needed to feel secure so he could thrive. With a consistent schedule (eat, play, sleep) and clear expectations (don’t climb my leg), we both stayed happy and safe. Do your customers believe you care about them? Does your website reflect dependability and transparency? You can’t sustain your business without establishing trust — in your products and in your company.


Provide a safe, uncluttered space.

I covered electrical outlets and blocked off the gap behind the refrigerator. And because a whole house can overwhelm a tiny kitten, I introduced him to a few rooms at a time. Your website should provide simple information to help new customers get started. Banish convoluted paths and obtuse jargon, and don’t drive customers to your ancient legacy system for transactions. You wouldn’t let them get lost behind the refrigerator, would you?


Lead the attention where you want it to go.

Cats don’t respond well to punishment, so proper training diverts an undesirable behavior to an acceptable one — from the drapes to the scratching post. Have you identified the measurable actions customers should take on your website? Make sure your website’s calls to action (limited to one or two per page) stand out in the visual hierarchy. Like a kitten, your website visitor needs you to spell out the priorities.


Encourage actions through rewards.

My kitten learned to repeat good behavior when it was linked with a reward, like his favorite jingly apple toy. In the same way, the classic user theory of “information scent” tells us that customers will stay on your site as long as they’re making progress toward their goal. If you want loyal customers, make it worth their while by rewarding every engagement with services and content they want and need.


After a week of tending, my foster kitten had gained weight, and his white fur looked healthy. He had grown gentler and more confident with humans. When you put that same care and attention into your website — and all your customer experiences — you’ll nurture the critical relationships that keep your business running.

*Pan the Kitten was adopted by an Archer Malmo employee and has been promoted to Agency Pet.