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Monday, September 29, 2008

Designing a successful online directory service - Part I

8:20:00 AM Posted by Oscar Berg , No comments
"In 2004 Teleadress designed and launched our own online directory service. Thanks to its Google-like simplicity, fast search engine and reliable data, hitta.se has rapidly become one of the most popular and repeatedly visited online directory services in Sweden." (Teleadress homepage)

I was asked by Teleadress to design the first version of hitta.se, now the leading online directory with contact information in Sweden. This was in late March 2004 and I was told that the service was to be launched in June, just a couple of months later. Not much time to think, but that just made the assignment so much more exciting.

So, time was a critical factor. The reason was that the former and by far largest customer of Teleadress, Eniro, had decided not to buy data from Teleadress anymore. They had previously bought all the data for their online and offline directory services from Teleadress. Now they wanted to aggregate and own the data themselves. It was quite a blow for Teleadress and the company that owned Teleadress at the time realized that they needed to do something fast if their investment would not become worthless. They simply decided to take up competition with their former customer.

I teamed up with my colleague Anders Bännstrand and we quickly declared that we could not compete with number of features, brand or credibility as it would take years to catch up on these things. To compete with the quantity and quality of the data would be hard even if we had more and better data since users typically distrust a new service. So the obvious way to go was to focus on designing an outstanding user experience. But we did not define "outstanding" in the same way as a traditional web agency would have (with a lot of focus on the visual design). We just wanted the service to be as lean and simple as possible and these were the characteristics we wanted in the user experience:

  • Simple

  • Fast

  • Clear

  • Accessible

  • Friendly

  • Flexible

  • Complete

When presenting the first design concept a week later, we started by showing the customer the following quote made by Sue Dumais, Microsoft in 2000 :

"The improvements in performance gained through usable interface design are 3 or 4 times larger than those gained through designing better search algorithms."

To be continued...(below is an early visual showing the search result)


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