Exploration, not guided tours

A lot of people, as well as having social media accounts and a CV, also have a personal website. Or a site that promotes their professional selves. Sometimes it’s used as a placeholder. Sometimes it’s used as an infrequently updated portfolio. And in some cases, it’s a frequently updated hub of activity. It tells people what they’re doing, what they’re thinking about, what they have and are working on, what they’re into and what they’re not, and why. 

The small subset of people that use their own slice of the internet in such a way probably want to build an audience of some sort, often for a variety of reasons. But they—and I include myself in this group—go about constructing their site or resource with one thing in mind; what they want.

They want to build an audience, and they’ve heard a key component is building a permission asset. The simplest permission asset is an email list. So they optimise everything with that end in mind. Autoresponder sequences and targeted copy. Calls to action. Pop up boxes and prompts at the end of every post, in the sidebar and in the footer. Constant link-dropping to the page that promotes their email list. 


I don’t know about you, but when I go to a site and get bombarded by pop ups telling me about an email list and free things I’ll get for signing up and how many other people cannot live without the newsletter, I get annoyed and leave. I want to look around. I want to see what I can find. I want to explore your work, portfolio, story, whatever, in my own time. I don’t want to be nudged into doing anything.

Yes, by all means, be helpful by providing a nice user experience and interface, links to your best or most popular work, and clear navigation. Yes, tell me about what you do and why you do it. But don’t think for one second that I care what you want me to do. I don’t care if you want to build a permission asset. I don’t care if you want me to buy a product or sign up for a trial of a service or share your post.

In an ideal world, this is what I want to happen when I go to any site: I want to be able to do anything I can think of, and be forced to do none of it. Give me options, and make taking them as frictionless and risk-free as possible. But don’t try to manipulate me into doing what you want. Let me immerse myself in your life, story and work. Don’t interrupt.

It’s a different approach to design. Instead of trying to show off and shove the value we create down the throats of the people that pass through, how about we let what we do speak for itself? How about letting people discover things for themselves? How about we give them a map, a short history, and allow them to explore, rather than trying to take them on a guided tour?