Usability is one of, if not the most, important feature of good website design. The internet has now become the primary touchpoint for both businesses and people, and one cannot ignore how usability enhances the experience, the depth of connection, and ease of transactions. As website tools continue to become more accessible, and users continue to demand more from digital experiences, small businesses can no longer ignore their badly designed websites. For Salon Elan, it became evident that their website was doing more harm than good.

Located in the central New Jersey area, Salon Elan is a small independent business serving the Hillsborough and Belle Mead areas. Housed within an unassuming white stucco building off of Route 206, the salon never seemed to have a filled parking lot or talked about within the community. The outside signage was minimal and very clearly outdated, and framed by unkempt landscaping. To the untrained eye, it might seem like the place was closed. 

Screenshot of the Salon Elan website

This feeling translated to their website. Formatted like a flyer created in Microsoft Word, each page looks almost identical. The only redeeming quality was that there was an established sense of hierarchy throughout, creating some form of consistency and unity. While not an ugly looking site, per se, it lacks a variety of features and elements a modern customer would expect. For many, trusting their hair and body to an establishment is a leap of faith – and from this first touchpoint it was difficult to believe that many would take that plunge.

In this blog post, we will explore the usability redesign process for Salon Elan from preliminary research to proposed execution and solutions. To read the full Usability Study Report, click here.

Starting the Process

The first thing that needed to be addressed was the assignment of business, marketing, and user requirements. These sets of requirements would ultimately drive all of the decisions made for the redesigned website. Business requirements would dictate alternate ways to gain revenue, marketing requirements to help sell and attract customers, and user requirements to ensure site visitors have a seamless and enjoyable online experience.

Once the requirements were set, a competitive analysis was conducted to get a better understanding of where Salon Elan’s website was lacking. Three competitors from the surrounding area were selected and analyzed for design strengths and weaknesses, as well as core and unique features. This would provide a clearer picture of the standard for salon websites and how they are typically organized.

“Usability really just means making sure that something works well: that a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can use the thing – whether it’s a web site, remote control, or revolving door – for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.” 

– Steve Krug

Before undergoing a heavy-lift project like a website redesign, it is also important to understand who the audience is and why the business needs the facelift in the first place. Without these two critical pieces of information, the project would fail from the get-go. 

After investigating the website, it seemed that the target audience was exclusively female. There were no features of male imagery or services catered to men listed in their offerings. It was also concluded that the targeted female was a more mature woman, of at least her mid-20s, who appreciates conventional feminine beauty. Taking those tidbits of information into consideration, three personas were created to symbolize the main revenue drivers of the salon: local and loyal clients, brides and special occasion clients, and new/exploratory clients. Read the full personas here. Now that the stage was set, it was time to move on to collect data and conduct research.

Collecting Data & Conducting Research

To increase usability, it’s important to get close to the users. This might sound self-explanatory, but it’s surprising to discover how many businesses create “solutions” without even consulting the people they serve. For the most well-rounded perspective, both quantitative and qualitative data should be collected. The quantitative data will allow for statistic-driven solutions, while qualitative data will allow for more creative, need-based solutions.

For this project a variety of methods were used to get feedback from real current or potential users of the Salon Elan website. Interviews, surveys, and diary studies were used to obtain information about the users demographics, psychographics, and online browsing habits, likes and dislikes. The interview acted as a personal one-on-one where probing could uncover additional insight, while the survey acted as a passive form of data collection. The diary study provided a more intimate view to a user’s habits, practices, and pain points. Combined, these research methods would allow for a holistic view of what the typical user would want and expect from a salon website.

Similarity Matrix from Card Sorting Exercise

Now that the target audience and their expectations were mapped, it was important to start identifying where the issues on the website were located and use real feedback to guide the solve approach. For this portion, a card sorting exercise, a heuristic evaluation, and usability testing were employed. Each of these methods required participants to look at different aspects of the website – like information architecture, aesthetics, and content – to help identify what was working well or areas that needed improvement.

Analyzing the Findings

After concluding the data collection and research, it was found that the Salon Elan website could not retain an engaged user because of a distinct lack of connection and usefulness. Rather than being a place where clients could go to make appointments and learn more about the salon and its services, the website acted more as an online repository. 

It was also evident that the website did not contribute to any business or marketing requirements. There was a lack of promotion or seasonal offerings and the website lacked informative sections that catered to high-revenue driving customers like brides.

Lastly, it was discovered that the current information architecture needed to be improved – especially if there is a desire to update content and add more features to the website. During the usability tests and card sorting exercise, users felt that the home page, about page, and services page were underutilized with the current content did not live up to expectations. Moving forward, the salon should pay attention to detail and user’s needs.

Solutions & Recommendations

With help from a professional website development team, and a redefined brand, Salon Elan can drastically improve their business. The following are recommended solves for some of the key issues that the salon is experiencing.

  • Move the website to a hosting platform like WordPress or SquareSpace. This will allow for the business to easily update and customize features without needing to rely on an external development team to maintain it. This will also help to modernize the look and feel of their UI/UX.
  • Include more photography to better represent the current and future clientele. There is minimal photography on the website and it is clearly stock imagery. To feel more authentic, Salon Elan should look to feature more of their own work to entice people into their space and showcase their expertise.
  • Use the website pages more intentionally. The home page could be used to feature seasonal offerings, showcase pieces of recent work, or announcements. Consider adding prices, and examples of work to the services page. Remove the inquiries page and instead focus on the contact page as the primary location for people to get in touch with the business. These adjustments will clarify to users what each section is used for.
  • Remove hyperlinks from the website if they lead to other internal pages. This is a redundant and bad practice. All information should be placed in a logical way so they don’t need to be led to it from one place on the website to another.
  • Improve recognition, recall, flexibility, and efficiency by conducting additional testing. These areas will require even more attention as the Salon Elan website develops and adopts more modern features like online appointment booking and purchases of gift certificates.

While completely overhauling the website is an option, it is also possible to fix one thing at a time. Small improvements are still improvements! For the best value, Salon Elan should look to develop their website in phases to test new features while enhancing key aspects of usability.

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