Usability and logic

Today was my first appearance as a lecturer in english.

I spoke about “Usability and content organization” & “Information infrastructure of a website”as part of TOSMI 2009.

Talking about 2 hours in front of people, about stuff that is just a part of my work, made me rethink over it. It was useful and surprising at the same time. I came up to some interesting questions like:

Why Google.com does not use :hover for the links? Nor the index page neither the results page have this state of links applied.

Why I couldn’t locate the right place to ask Google this very question?

or

Why Vimeo home page has 3 options in its main navigation as two of them are drop menus and they are not indicated as such?

After the lecture I spent some more time with myself discussing the topic. Respectively, some conclusions appeared on the table for me.

“A usable web site” is the primary goal in the whole process of creating a web site. From the initial idea, through the content organization & information architecture, design, technical realization, tests and final product. Simply because you create something for somebody – your target audience.

I observe the fact – if your website visitors cannot use it in any manner, it becomes useless. This is valid even if you create a web page only for you.

At any step of the way you are trying to produce better content and presentation for it. This is not enough because you cannot escape the next step – interaction with your “common user”. Interaction in general is visual. User experiences images with particular meaning – letters, symbols, signs, photos, videos, etc.. The most common type for communication in web is this one. In order to be successful it must be understandable and applicable i.e. usable. You must be able to communicate and provide value.

Here we come to the ground rule of all rules as we talk on the topic. After about 6 years working over so many different projects – this is the approach that provides desired results every time.

Keep It Simple & Sequential. Simple things are easy to understand. Sequential things are easy to learn and operate.

Which is the next logical step?

Which is the next logical step?

Most people easy get the the idea of simplicity. Maybe because it is that simple. It takes (much) more time to understand what stand behind the “sequential” part. In short – logic.

When you create and provide content you do this in a specific manner. For example, journalists know one type that manner – “How to write an article”. So they find new ways to add value for their readers in order to become better. Journalists are well aware of the logical structure of the article as such and their readers’ expectations. So they try combine this and upgrade the logical representation of their work, the logical steps that users experience while reading their articles.

For example, we can focus on news portals and their articles. The most common logic structure is:

Level 1: Heading title of the article.

Level 2: Who wrote it and when (author & date).

Level 3: What it was written (the article itself).

One of the next logical steps is:

Level 4: Add links to related articles to this specific article.

This 4-th level enriches your content and user experience. Ar the same time it is consequential from the previous steps and therefor the users easy understand and operate with it. In other words users subconsciously build this in their heads: Topic of the article (level 1) ->Related topics based (Level 4 concluding from level 1).

You have: 1…, 2…, 3…, and of course the next step would be 4. So that kind of logical representation of the content is important anywhere. Because people watch and learn. They learn to use your website. If you present something entirely new it will take time for them to learn it. It is quite possible some of them to fail, even. Because we do not want this to happen we try to help them orientate better and faster based on their previous experience or through simple educational sequences.

At the same time education in web is not that simple. Conducted test revealed that users can remember 8-9 steps of their previous actions in web, tops. So, be logical but do not let users forget where they came from.

Arranging your content and presenting it in a logical manner (hierarchical to some extend), matters a lot. (I guess that is why there are so much experts when we talk about this.) When I say content I do not mean only texts and titles. I mean any box with specific properties, menu and sub-menus, graphics elements enhancing user experience (breadcrumbs, paging, “read more”, etc.) and so on.

This entire approach is a vital part under the term of “Usability” i.e. the ease of use.

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