Beauty vs Business – “Don’t bold the price”

A selection of menus listing the price down the right hand side

Consider the humble menu

Author and restaurateur, Ryan Gromfin had some interesting theories on menu engineering, and so carried out studies in food menu design. His findings proved his theories of how very particular design considerations could increase average per-head orders.

Generally speaking Ryan advocates:

  • Removing the currency sign from menus
  • Not making the price bold
  • Combine the price amongst the text description and not separating it out.

What he proved was that by reducing the attention normally given to the price, a well designed (and worded) menu can steer the customers eyes toward reading the actual description, and using that description to influence their decision rather than price. And I don’t mean “Chicken with Vegetables” I mean…

Free-range fillet of chicken tenderloin, with honey glazed potatoes and braised red cabbage – 23

When menus have all the prices aligned down the right-hand side, customers will more often than not, simply skim down the list looking for items within their price preference, then tracing back to the left to read what it is. Food listed above or below could well be of interest to them, but will likely never be read.

The business benefits of bad UX

The menu test awarded the restaurant owner an average bill increase of $1.06 per person tested over several months, which for that establishment added up to something like thirty-odd thousand dollars per year. Not bad. But where does this practice sit with current interactive user experience (UX) design sensibilities?

Users are becoming more savvy now and critical of poor interactive services. They are becoming used to filtering and sort/ordering of what they choose to see. For a restauranteur who’s trying to sell their food with delicious descriptions, providing advanced filtering and sorting wouldn’t be doing themselves any favours. Luckily this isn’t even a possibility with paper menus, but even if they were selling online, high-end products/services are often allowed to break the rules of sensible presentation, because they of course, are: “Selling the experience”. So online, a balance has to be struck, and very carefully between UX, visual design and strategic business promotion.

Going back to words

The digital camera industry is worth looking at for the way it has allowed numbers to sell its wares (for better or worse). Counting Megapixels, Frames per second, Shots per charge, Autofocus points, Cross-type phase detection autofocus points, Screen size, Screen resolution, and so on. Numbers, numbers, numbers!

In spite of these measurements being the backbone of camera retail marketing, Leica cameras take their own path. Consider their cameras in the market today. In particular the Leica M-D (Typ 262) camera.

  • It is all manual focus (so, no Auto focus, continuous autofocus tracking or face detection)
  • No full auto exposure modes (exposure is manually set through shutter speed on the body and aperture rings on the lens)
  • It doesn’t even have a screen for viewing photos you’ve taken. The viewfinder is optical and there is no screen on the back at all.

And remember this is a digital camera – It costs over £5,000 (without a lens). In contrast you could buy several Sony A7 Full Frame cameras with all the latest bells and whistles.

But Leica are selling dreams. They know how to describe their wares and convince customers that it’s worth it… And they don’t sort their website by price.

Un-trending behaviour

User Experience design (UX) is the informed response to requirement or problem. UX was originally biased toward the User in a contrasting swing away from products historically being designed by the whims and ideas of product owners. UX methodologies interrogated target audiences to inform it’s assertions.

This is/was a good thing… it’s how we got sorting and filters on our website searches. But today our web services and apps need to make money, and it’s here where Beauty vs Business pits the user’s requirements against the business’ financial strategies, and raises the question of mitigating bad user design that favours the latter.

If a UX designer carried out user-testing on one of these suggested food menus for a website; failing to show the currency and embedding the price amongst the text, it would probably be laughed out of the building. But let’s just take a sense check here…

The User in UX doesn’t necessarily make you their lawyer working on their behalf. It just means that you’re designing/architecting structured services that users interact with. We are not inherently on the user’s side (though that’s a common misconception). We are on the side of good design that delivers on the KPI’s we have been set.

Therefore, secondly, the assumed default metric for UX; being about what’s easiest/quickest for the user, must be considered (or reconsidered) at all times to ensure that design cliches do not impede the KPI’s and harm profit margins.

The hero the people need

It’s a difficult thing to deliver on. Not just in terms of re-thinking how we prioritise and test our requirements, but also because we, as designers, live and die by our portfolio and previous work.

In a world full of tweeted criticism and confrontational competition, it’s a risk to put out a product that can, to the untrained eye, be misconstrued and taken apart. It’s hard to go against the grain.

But our clients are working hard to run their business to make a profit and all needs must be met, else there will be no phase two.

I strongly advise seeking out Ryan Gromfin on YouTube and following his stories. He is an amazing guy with brilliant insights that inform many walks of life.

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