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Calvin Ayre

The Bombay Manifesto

28 April 2004

The Original Bible on Web site Design

As mentioned in previous articles I have written, I started what became the group of companies in the early 1990s. At this time the world was just feeling its way through the thorny issue of what a Web site really is. Hyperlinks were a fringe concept restricted to a few abstract thinkers and sci-fi writers. I, however, was convinced that the Internet and more specifically the Web in the case of this article would be significant forces in a global societal change that was already under way.

The group was no exception. We were so much ahead of the curve that we had no online references to go by. Everything we did we had to invent from scratch using real world examples. At this time the technical guys were making all the decisions, but I thought this was backwards. I remember thinking that the end users would be average Joes, so it was really they that should be driving the design of the user interfaces, not highly skilled, and in many cases, highly intelligent technology professionals.

I did not really qualify for the "average Joe" title, but I did have a background that I thought would make me more qualified to design user interfaces than many others in the industry. While I was going to University, instead of getting a summer job I bought an old five-ton truck with an insulated box and a refrigeration unit. I fixed this truck up, took it over to the local fruit orchards, loaded it full of whatever was in season and headed out on a 20-hour drive to the Prairies to sell it on the side of the road in small towns. This was my first business.

In the countless hours I spent selling fruit for a number of summers while going to university, I got an opportunity to really get inside the consumers head by selling products as basic as peaches and cherries. The reality is that all purchase decisions are basically handled the same. These same lessons, ingrained in my brain so many years ago, were pulled back out in designing our Web sites. I believe that the basic principles of design that we pioneered are a big reason for the success of the group today. Our Web sites are designed from start to finish with the end user experience in mind, and we have easy, and prompted (we ask for it), feedback systems in place to let the end users have direct input into the evolution of our Web site.

This process is also driven by a philosophy that every person in our organization, and every point of contact (Web, etc), are all inextricably part of the customer service we offer. By the end of the 1990s we had a very good Web site design and were responsible for many of the innovations that are considered mainstays for any company in our industry. While sitting in my office one evening in Costa Rica I got to thinking about all we had learned over the years. I thought I would codify some of this knowledge to use as a training tool for our team. Since I was sipping on an ice cold Bombay Gin Martini at the time, the document was somewhat imperially titled "The Bombay Manifesto." This e-mail was then forwarded to the entire company at the time. I got on with my affairs and forgot entirely about even doing this until talking to some of the developers at our spring bonus party and one of them mentioned The Bombay Manifesto. I got a bit of a laugh out of this since I clearly remember writing it. I asked if anyone had a copy of it and sure enough they all said they still did and still referred to it once in a while. The next day I got it forwarded to me in its original form with the date and time still attached. Though our thinking has certainly evolved since I did this up nearly four years ago, the entire e-mail is printed below in its original form, with all spelling and grammar mistakes included.

The Bombay Manifesto
Saturday, December 23, 7:08 PM

I am sitting here in the back of the call center, admiring how well things are running these days compared to the past... quietly sipping on an ice cold Bombay martini (I cleaned out the one store that carries my favorite brand of gin a few days ago) and started thinking of our Web sites. I have been dumping a lot of advice over the last little bit due to changes in Web-dev and customer service and recently have been thinking of putting some basic principles down that are working well for us that everyone can take advantage of. Anyways... here is my opinion on why our Web site is so good in general principles (note this is customized for our industry and not in order cause I am too lazy now that I have most of my first drink polished off):

  1. End user psychological profiling drives everything. We need to be in their heads so we can simultaneously give them what they want while getting them to do what we want.

  2. Speed is always important.

  3. The less clicks the better...anyway you can remove steps, do it. Lowest possible barrier to entry always.

  4. Never let the users be more than one click away from customer service. We have a customer service e-mail link on every page in the same spot.

  5. Use graphics to excite the players to get them to do things we want, but once they start doing what we want... keep the process the definitive utilitarian maximization... clean and fast. When you do use graphics, use the right amount. (See #2 above!)

  6. Do not make anyone think if you can design it so they do not have to... Keep it simple.

  7. Out source the management of any content you can since this is not our core business. Our embedded research links gives us the best info available to our players at almost no management cost to us.

  8. Use-pop ups properly... They can be a huge advantage for sophisticated users or a huge pain in the ass if not done properly. Avoid multiple replication of the same pages in different windows and make sure the pop-ups are named properly so users can manage them.

  9. Make sure the repeat users do not have to suffer through something just cause the newbies will like it.

  10. Do not collect useless information... just to "let" someone do business with us. Again...lowest possible barrier to entry.

  11. Put the "meat" of the site out front... Let them drill for the insignificant stuff.

  12. No dead-ends... If there's nothing there don't let them in.

  13. If you have a link on the site, make sure it works.

  14. If you change the site, make sure the site copy (the information) is still accurate.

  15. The first level of customer service is the Web site (actually being able to easily and simply use the product is the ultimate customer service) itself. The users will only call in because the system or site design is not good enough. Improve the site using customer "advice."

I gotta go refill my glass, so anyone else that can think of anything I didn't touch on can add to this and someone can actually do up a more formal Web site manifesto from this that can be used as a training aid for the entire team. Anyway...gotta go fill my glass :-)

The Bombay Manifesto is republished from
Calvin Ayre
Calvin Ayre