The roll out of has been bad.  But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud for folks in the digital space.  We might finally have the best example ever to demonstrate how important User Interface and Experience is to the success or failure of a business.

When I talk to clients about their website, people often get defensive.  It’s been their baby.  They have often sunk a lot of money and time into it.  Just like a paper that comes back from a teacher with red marks all over it, even if they know it could be better, it is depressing to contemplate a re-write or refresh.  But when a website doesn’t work or answer the basic questions people want to know when they get there, it fails in its basic purpose for being.  It frustrates people and the leave.  They are left with a bad initial impression of your product or service, no matter how important or terrific it is.

I heard a great discussion on NPR this morning about the site, and one of the main problems being that there was no gist or browsing capabilities before they required lots of detailed information and creating of accounts.  In the business world, this is like making your website visitor give you their email or sign up for an account, mandatorily rather than optionally, before they can even see your home page.  Some people will opt in, but many won’t.  You lose business before you even had a chance to earn it.  It’s like meeting someone for the first time and requiring a background check before you exchange business cards.  It requires too much effort up front and no flirting before people decide to commit to a sale, an email newsletter, or even a cup of coffee.

This bad first impression is going to be tough for people to overcome.  It means that many of the fantastic things in the healthcare law, such as provisions for people with pre-existing conditions, is being lost in the sea of bad, governmental style, administrative interface crap.  But the upside for me is that this will become the best case study ever when I try to help a business look at their website with new eyes.  The importance of user interface is now front and center.  The public critique of the government site is no different than the critique they should be giving their own site, and how their friends and neighbors interact with their business online.

Digital media and marketers have a great opportunity in the Healthcare debacle, and that’s to help people put good design and useability front and center in a way it’s never been before.  We can point to something and say “Here- look at this vitally important thing- love it or hate it, millions of people have to use it, but bad design and difficulty navigating the system are killing it.  The inability to get the core question of “How much is this gonna cost?” answered or at least ball-parked is causing people to lose faith in the underlying program and product.  What do you think we can do to make sure you’re not in this same boat with your web presence?”

I am so excited to have a big example on how important good designand navigation is to the success of a business, that I’m almost (just a little) glad this has been a problem for the Government.  It pains me that the contractors and IT guys forgot about the real people before the rollout, and apparently did very little “person on the street” testing before it went live.  Working with IT guys from time to time, I totally get it- they are the code guys, not the marketers and designers.  And I will bet you user interface specialists and designers for websites will be getting calls soon like never before, from government and business alike.

We finally have a way to prove to everyone how important a well-designed website and access to information is, versus any old thing that someone’s kid did on the weekend.  There is a new value proposition out there, and we’re just the people who can help.