I’ve been presented with a unique scenario where a customer of mine wants to link a user journey across several websites that they own.

Each website has a unique brand and style guide which are in no way connected to one another (sometimes plain text hyperlinks are provided where necessary).

Following is an example (I’ve made up the following to protect the privacy of my customer):

Site 1 is related to letting people compare different fruit available for purchase. It also lists limited information about the various stores selling the fruit. The stores can be compared (price, location, customer satisfaction, quality of produce).

Site 2 is related to a registration company that you must sign up with in order to purchase fruit. When you sign up to you get a customer number. You cannot purchase fruit without a customer number. There is a whole business function around managing customer numbers and the history of customers.

Site 3 is related to a company that provides loans for the purchase of fruit. Only select fruit providers are allowed to offer loans to customers. There is a whole business function around managing the loans, and the fruit providers that are approved to offer loans.

Site 4 is related to helping fruit purchases decide what they can do with their fruit. There is a whole business function that creates content around what benefits certain fruit has.

Ive explained that to the customer, they don’t necessarily care (we’ve discovered this through research) that all 4 sites are different business functions and would like to register to purchase fruit, compare fruit to purchase, apply for fruit loans, and view information about what they can do with the fruit on one site - they want one seamless experience and don’t want to be redirected back and forth between different sites to complete one journey (obvious, and fair enough).

They are not willing to combine.

I believe there are certain stakeholders within each business function preventing these sites being combined into 1. They each don’t want to lose their brand (even though it is of little significance to the customer), and are worried they won’t be able to maintain each of their own sites content if it is all on one (I’ve explained this can all be achieved via a CMS with each business having access restricted to content that it is responsible for).

So what can we do? If someone lands on Site 1 (consumer compare), is redirected to site 2 to register, and then back to site 1 to compare, and then possibly to site 3 to register for a loan that is a horrible experience.

Hoping someone may have some thoughts, comments, questions or suggestions to assist...

  • What is the brief from the customer? What do they want? – saldarii Aug 10 at 12:40
  • Is there room for an overarching brand to unify the different sites? Something like a shared registration and login. Also: are users aware how their data are shared, if that is the case? And how does the segmented branding benefit the users? – gerstemout Aug 10 at 19:46

This problem appears to be more business oriented, so you need to gather information on the reasons behind the initial decisions for not combining these sites.

For each site, try to ask the motivations behind their existence. Maybe there is a good reason behind one or maybe it is no longer applicable. Having the rationale will help you address the problem from the right angle. You also need to find the right person to talk to, it seems that some of the stakeholders might feel threatened by a merge.

Once you understand the backgroud, I would recommend explaining how this is affecting conversion, KPIs or whatever is the important metric for them. You could be illustrating this with two journey maps, one representing the actual process of an user and a second one more efficient.

As you mentioned, the ideal solution would be to provide a seamless experience for users. However, I can imagine how it must be next to impossible to convince all the stakeholders in this case.

If you have enough resources, you could develop a prototype of the perfect solution and do some A/B testing. Compare time spent on site, success rate for each business, etc between the current sites and the unified website. Maybe quantitative data of improved conversion rates (that directly translate into profit) would be able to convince them.

If not, the question becomes how to mitigate the downsides of having separate websites and decrease users frustration and confusion as much as possible.

Having a visual briefly describing the different websites and their relationships / possible user journey would help users understand where they are, and where they might need to go to perform the tasks they want to achieve. Ideally the infographics would be displayed in roughly the same location on each website.

If even that is not possible, at the very least, the user should be warned each time they are about to leave a website and go to another one, and given some explanation for this change. If data entered in one website is shared with another, the user should give explicit agreement for sharing this data.

  • +1 I would say that providing a consistent user experience can be more than just focusing on the visual aspects of the design, but your answer addresses the visual and interaction aspects quite well :) – Michael Lai 2 days ago

A 5th website.
It will provide an overview to this business, links to each department and subscription services.

Nice solution for your client. Current websites will remain as they are.
Good for visitors. They will be easily informed for the full system capabilities.
And finally good for you. You won't mess so much with current websites, stakeholders and old habits.

Here are two working examples. Stack Exchange and Google products and services

  • Just wondering if it is going to be easy to create this fifth website and integrate all the functions and services if it is not easy to align them in the first instance? – Michael Lai 2 days ago

Keep in mind that a consistent or fluent user experience is not just about the look & feel, but that other elements are involved as well. In fact, even though the UI and the interactions might be the first thing that the user experiences, when the nature of the goal or task that they are trying to perform is not solely focused or dependent on visual cues then it opens up other areas that you really need to get on top of.

For example, you might consider the mental model and the information architecture of each of the different sites. As long as each site is structured in a similar way, it will help the customer find the information they are looking for even if the look & feel is not consistent.

Another example might be the storage and transfer of customer information across the different sites. Having a single sign-on process will allow information to be used without having to provide the same input, and thus provide a smooth transition between sites.

Finally, you can still map out the journey across the multiple sites (admittedly not an easy task) and highlight the potential pain points (and validate them with user research) to make your point. You may find that visual design is the least of your problems, or that it is critical and if they are not willing to invest the effort to address the problem then there will be usability issues.

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