Sage websites: a study in poor user design

It’s lucky Sage have such a big name, because the usability of their websites are appalling. They have a professional appearance that gives an attractive first impression, unfortunately, it appears that they also left the build to graphic designers, as no self-respecting web designer would have built such a labyrinth of vague clues and disregard of convention.

Things the website should have avoided:

No phone number on homepage (Sage site) and cryptic options on the contact page
I want to buy some accounting software. I’m ready to buy. I just want to ask someone a few questions about which is the perfect one for me and then we’re away. I’ve got a very busy day on and don’t want to spend a long time hunting for information that might not be there, but a human rep should have to hand. But what is this? No phone number on the homepage? And it gets worse.

Click on the ‘contact’ button and you are confronted with four tabs of options. ‘Sales’ that’s what I want I guess, although from my point of view it’s not a sale, it’s a purchase. But I guess instead of trying to get into my shoes, as a smart company might want to, they are forcing me to get into theirs. Fine, sales. And FIVE phone numbers to chose from. FIVE! Count them! Now, am I ‘new to Sage’? Or is it a ‘general sales enquiry’. Well, both to be honest. Then under those ambiguous choices is a list of their products with yet another set of numbers. Perhaps the product I want is in that list – I don’t know, I’m three clicks in and haven’t been able to get any advice yet…

Constant Flash Movies (Sagepay site)
The central section of the website is constantly taken up with a distracting Flash movie. When I arrive at the site it bombards me with huge colourful splotches and non-information displayed at a 3-year-old’s reading speed, meaning it’s impossible to choose from any of the options and in fact even remember what you turned up there for in the first place. Even worse, it doesn’t end, but keeps repeating - presumably to hypnotize those who have the rest of the day to spend reading the trite ‘You can bank on us’ instead of getting on with something useful.
And there’s no relief, the attention seeking action continues on all pages, like a hyperactive child who climbs over the steering wheel while when you’re late for a meeting.

Disregard for conventions (Sage invoicing site)
So, you want to download Sage’s free invoicing package (which incidentally shows another weakness, as I have searched for invoicing software in the past, and remained blissfully unaware Sage offered such a thing). Great, go to the download page. Most of the text is grey, with occasional small pink phrases. Ah, you think – I know what it means when a few words are not a heading, but in a different colour to the rest of the text – that’s a link! Think again buster. They’re just there for decoration, and because the Sage site demands a toll in useless clicks. Fine, you think. But here is a big shiny button – it has a picture of an arrow pointing down at a hard drive, but most of all, it has the words ‘download now’ in big letters. This time I can really put the clues together. If I click on that, the download will start. Nuh uh uh! That will actually take you to a new page, but look, the same button is on this new page. Perhaps it will work now. Nope. It just makes the page jump about in a funny way. There are a lot of warnings about pop-ups, so maybe that’s the problem. Try cancelling popup blocker. Nothing. Try a different browser. Nada. Eventually you realize you have to fill in a form with all your details in order to download the ‘free’ software. By which point you’re practically forgotten who you are, let alone who owes you money.

Better hope your name is big enough
I could go on, but I’m already short on time having spent about 45 minutes exploring websites that should have taken me ten. I will probably still have to hold my nose and buy from Sage because my accountant tells me I have to and they are in the enviable position of being industry leaders. But if you are hoping to attract customers online, you’d better make sure you think about your customers a bit better than Sage, because if you make them jump through hoops and chase their tails like that, they’ll soon realize they’re barking up the wrong tree and find a better alternative.