fbpx Skip to main content

What Would Don Draper Say (About Web Usability)?

Don Draper Web Usability

Don Draper, the whiskey-swigging, womanizing warlord of the advertising world on AMC’s hit drama Mad Men could have taught us a thing or two about web usability. In today’s article, we’ll dig through some memorable quotes from the master of marketing and see what we can learn about user experience and the usable web.

“You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself.” (S. 4 E. 9)

Usability is the ease at which users can accomplish particular goals online. Websites that are easy to use empower users, and speak volumes about the company behind the design. Gain the trust and respect of your target audience with a company or startup website that is built on optimal usability. It will involve user testing, navigation strategy, and a bit more creativity than a pretty layout requires, but it’s worth it.

“Nostalgia — it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge on your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” (S. 1 E. 13)

Saying that you want to improve a site’s user experience means something different than simply improving usability. The user experience is about influencing how a person interacts with a site, and what they take home from the journey.

Emotions like nostalgia can play a positive role in boosting the effectiveness of your startup or company website. When we strive to convey nostalgia, humour, empathy, or fun in a website design, we are considering the user experience. As Don Draper says, it’s powerful in marketing.

“In the end, no one wants to be one of a hundred in a box.” (S.1 E.8)

So how to employ emotion in design? Start with strong knowledge of your unique target audience. “Different audiences find different things meaningful, and improving conversions on our sites depends upon understanding that there is no uniform way that people think and act,” says UXBooth contributor Aaron Griffith.

Develop customer personas to guide your content and design decisions. A customer persona is a fully developed character that represents the generalized preferences of your target audience. You give your persona a name, occupation, age, gender, income bracket, life goals, and sources of information, and maybe even a stock photo to represent them physically. Then, as you craft your website, the persona acts as a guide for your content and design choices.

Learn all you can by interviewing a representative from your target market (ex: a customer from your brick-and-mortar establishment), or distribute user surveys online. Your persona can then be put together based on the specific characteristics of your unique target user.

Accommodate individual user needs and make the experience easy for them by considering your target audience as unlike the other ninety-nine in the box.

“You don’t cover for me, you manage expectations.” (S.2 E.3)

Delivering an easy-to-use Internet solution requires that we stick to some web browsing expectations, or risk scaring our users away. As Spotless Interactive contributor Tim Fidgeon says, “ A key principle within usability is that people carry around a ‘mental mode’ of how we expect the world to behave.” To break the mode is to make users pretty unhappy.

Manage expectations by adhering to web conventions. Place links where users expect them (e.g. the login/logout links are almost always at the top right of the page). Use flash sparingly and avoid custom javascript that modifies default browser behavior. Ensure your call-to-action buttons link to the correct page. Keep your layout colour scheme consistent, instead of ‘surprising’ your user with an About Us page that looks outrageously different from the rest of the site.

Web usability means much more than the ‘cover’-appearing functional. It’s about delivering solutions to problems and goals that make the process dependable for the user.

“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.” (S.1 E.1)

Strong web usability often necessitates a user-centric approach to site copy. Draper narrows advertising down to “happiness”, a personal, emotional state that cannot be produced for users with purely promotional language. As a user scans a website, she wonders, “what’s in it for me?”

Turn the focus of your website content over to your user’s needs. Highlight user benefits instead of product features. Showcase the outcomes of using your service.

At the top of every page in the Socket website, we emphasize the time-saving benefits of our instant quoting service. We hone in on the emotional outcome of using Socket software, showing our users what’s in it for them.

It makes the site that much easier for users to discover that they’ve come to the right place to find what they need.


Mad Men takes place in the 1960’s, long before the Internet, e-commerce, and web marketing were even imaginable concepts. However, the philosophies that were established at the peak of the advertising age still ring true for business owners and entrepreneurs seeking success online.

We can’t vouch for drinking on the job or seducing secretaries, though. We’ll leave that up for Don Draper and his cronies.


Fidgeon, Tim. “Usability: User expectations are important”. 7 February 2011. Spotless Interactive: http://www.spotlessinteractive.com/articles/usability-research/usability-user-behaviours/user-expectations-are-important.php
Griffith, Aaron. “Improve Conversions by Connecting With Your Audience”. 2 February 2010. UXBooth: http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/improve-conversions-by-connecting-with-your-audience/
Nabors, Rachel. “Better User Orientation Through Navigation”. 5 May 2009. UX Booth: http://www.rachelnabors.com/2009/05/better-user-orientation-through-navigation-on-uxbooth/
Photo credit: AMC shows Jon Hamm as Don Draper in “Mad Men” (AP Photo/AMC Frank Ockenfels)

Related Posts

Join our newsletter

Don't miss our product updates, B2B growth tips and events.

Newsletter Signup - blog

We care about the protection of your data. Read our Privacy Policy.