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Growth Driven Design

5 Web Design Lessons Learned from Technology Fails

Remember the LaserDisc?

If you're anything like me, the answer is "I guess. Kinda."

This almost-forgotten technology has made at least one round-up of the worst "tech flops" of all time, joining the ranks of the Betamax, DIVx, and Apple's little-known PDA.

5 Web Design Lessons Learned

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LaserDiscs are described as "the grandfather of optical disc storage." First commercially available in 1978, these 12-inch discs achieved some popularity in Japan, but little in the US. Ultimately, the discs were visually similar to a much-larger DVD, but with analog-based technology.

By 1996, this technology was being actively displaced by DVDs. It wasn't long before it fell into obscurity entirely. While there are still people, to this day, who insist the LaserDisc offered some sound advantages, it ultimately failed to disrupt the media market. It was never widely adopted, and it didn't stick around long.

While it may seem obscure, there's actually plenty of lessons in the almost rise and fall of LaserDisc for marketers. Humor us as we explain why this tech faceplant has everything to do with better website design.

1. It Was Cumbersome

At roughly 12 inches, the LaserDisc was nearly twice as wide as the 4.56'' DVD, while lacking all the nostalgic hipster appeal of vinyl records. The discs weren't well-designed to fit into existing storage solutions, and the technology required to play them was apparently incredibly heavy, generally well over 20 pounds.

Between size and weight, these weren't exactly the kind of thing you wanted to drag to your friend's house for movie night. In short, these discs didn't make life easier for consumers.

When it comes to web design, you definitely want to avoid a cumbersome website. Your prospects have options, and chances are, they're not going to wade through a site that's incredibly difficult to use. Examples of awkward web design in the wild could include:

  • Confusing website navigation
  • Slow page load times
  • Poor information architecture
  • Poor or non-existent mobile optimization
  • Excessive pop-ups or calls-to-action

Luckily, you can express your creativity without being too awkward. Learn more at 6 Examples of Great Website Menu Design (and Why They Work).

2. It Wasn't Able to Handle Consumer Needs

The LaserDisc could contain one hour of video per side. This means that 60 minutes into your movie, you had to physically get up and walk across the room to flip the disc. If you were watching Ben Hur or Gone With the Wind, you had to use multiple discs.

Consumers did have the option of purchasing high-end LaserDisc players that could flip discs on their behalf. But LaserDisc players were never cheap to begin with, and the flip-capable ones cost around $1,000 (that's over $3,000 in today's dollars).

Suddenly, that mid-movie walk across the room is looking like the more appealing alternative. Except, you also had to be super careful. LaserDiscs were very easy to damage.

We recognize that the LaserDisc's creators and marketers were limited by analog technology, and we're lucky for how far technology has advanced since the 80's. However, there's an important thought exercise in all of this.

The technology that fits consumer needs is going to win. As soon as DVDs that could contain an entire movie, even a really long one, were released, the LaserDisc was obsolete.

If your website offers a similarly inconvenient user experience, you're also at risk of being obsolete as soon as a better alternative emerges.

3. It Didn't Innovate

When it was first released, the LaserDisc was pretty darn innovative. Compared to video cassette tapes that were released two years prior, the image and sound quality was awesome. Not to mention the fact that this technology just looked different than anything that had come before.

However, LaserDisc didn't innovate. Even at the peak of production (which was mild), the discs and players were expensive, heavy, and easily damaged. Is it any wonder that consumers moved to DVDs in swarms as soon as they could?

The most effective organizations view innovation as an ongoing process. This is especially crucial in the web design arena, where technologies and best practices can become obsolete virtually overnight. A website that cost your company $150,000 in 2015 could be a dinosaur by the end of this quarter.

The key to success is often in investing in smart tweaks, not total overhauls. It's cheaper month-to-month, and it's lower risk. By constantly evolving, you'll never wake up one morning to find your entire site is completely out-of-date.

To learn more about constant innovation in web design, we recommend Website Revamp vs. Growth Driven Design: Which is Smarter?

4. It Was a One-Sided Technology

The LaserDisc could play video or audio, but it couldn't record it. Considering the technology was younger than both the cassette tape and video cassette, this means it was launched with key functions missing. If you wanted to record the football game, you were officially out of luck.

Once again, we acknowledge that LaserDisc was innovative in its own way and limited by the state of tech 30 years ago. However, there's an important lesson in risk here.

When it comes to your website, are you sacrificing any core functionality for the sake of a little extra "pop"? Is a storybook-style homepage worth it if you can't afford a mobile version? Core functionality can always come first, and with a continual approach to website updates, you can focus on the "shiny" later.

5. It was Expensive

Did we mention that LaserDiscs were really expensive? Former collectors report that a boxed collection of Star Wars discs cost $250 in 1993. That's $431.00 in 2016 dollars.

Absurdly expensive technologies don't benefit consumers. Absurdly expensive website overhaul projects don't benefit organizations, either. There was a lot of risk in spending over a thousand dollars for a player and the Star Wars collection, which is similar to the risk brands can absorb in "big bang" website overhaul projects.

Any new website is a hypothesis. Even if you're leaning heavily on industry best practices for UX and navigation, you have no proof that it's going to be the right website for your prospects and customers. Pouring your entire budget into a site design that's not backed by web metrics or A/B testing is a huge investment that may or may not pay off.

Regardless of how you feel about the LaserDisc, marketers should consider whether their design budget is best spent gradually based on data, or on a hypothesis that's not grounded in science.

What Marketers NEED to Know About Disruption and Customers

If you leave this blog with just one takeaway, it should be the following:

Marketers don't decide what's disruptive—their customers do.

It was customers who decided that Uber was preferable to cabs or limos. It was customers who decided they'd rather go with Netflix than Blockbuster video. And it's your customers who will decide whether or not your website design is "good," "useful," or "user-friendly."

In the age of tech-driven disruption, the customer's voice matters more than ever before. Citizens have become designers, social media promoters, and publishers. Marketers aren't powerless. In fact, they're empowered. You've got access to tons of insights via web metrics, social media data, and more.

To avoid the sad trajectory of the LaserDisc, you've got to stay on your toes. Listen to your customers, and constantly improve. Be conscious of the ways your website is "cumbersome" and don't let your UX become obsolete. Fast technological change demands constant innovation.

Written by Jasmine Gordon / September 28, 2016

Jasmine W. Gordon is a copywriter at Lean Labs. She's written for digital audiences for over 5 years, and her background includes agencies, tech startups, health care, big data analytics, energy, and more. Jasmine loves new marketing statistics, optimization studies, and live music.

Articles by Jasmine Gordon