Thursday, January 14, 2016

Happy talk must die. (Steve Krug)

Sometimes, I joke with my writers that they must get paid by the word.

Actually, for some of them, that’s not that far from the truth. A lot of writers for the web wander over from more traditional, print-based media – newspapers, magazines, PR … And, in those fields, writers do have to deal with something called a “word count.” In other words, there is a set amount of words they have to produce – even if they might not have all that much to say.

So, the first thing all these writers who are new to the web have to deal with is the fact that – I hate to break it to ya, fella, but – no one really wants to read your stuff. I’m sure that’s an incredible blow to the ego. It almost, though, seems like a rite of passage to have to come to terms with that fact.

There are two ways that last bit happens. Probably the most effective is to watch a few usability tests. That masterful opening paragraph that you spent hours on and are quite pleased with? Well, it looks like only 9 of 10 users actually read it. And, of the 9 who didn’t, did you hear their quotes? Did that one guy actually say, “Blah blah blah”? He did!

If that doesn’t work, I usually bring up all the research that shows that people really don’t like to read online, and why that is. My particular favorite is the seminal work that was done at the Nielsen Norman Group.

Nielsen Norman also, however, point to some real solutions as well. Now, these are simple things such as:
  • Using lists
  • Bolding keywords
  • Breaking up paragraphs

What’s really great about these methods is that they support the way most people read on the web, something known as “scan and skim.”

The main point I try to get across, though, is that those big, grey blobs that you were been rewarded for in previous lives? I hate to break it to ya, but they just ain’t going to work here. 

I’m pretty sure this is not what Steve was talking about
(Happy Talk is a song from South Pacific,
here covered by English Goth Punk band The Damned)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Things that behave differently should look different. (Alan Cooper)

There are two things going on here. First, there’s affordances. That’s just a fancy way of saying what a thing does should be obvious from the way it looks. An affordance is just the little thing that tells you what that thing can do.  

Think of a door. If it has a push plate, it tells you you have to push the door to open it. If, instead, it has something you can grab, that tells you you’re going to be pulling this one toward you. And if it has a fairly standard-looking handle, that means that you need to grab and turn it before you can do anything else.

In a more digital context, radio buttons say, “Click one of me.” Checkboxes say, “Click as many of me as you like.” Sliders say, “There’s more here.” Links say, “I’m going to take you to a new page.”

That last one is actually a good example of what Cooper is talking about here. A very traditional standard for links is blue and underlined. A lot of sites, however, get a little creative. They might, for example, ditch the underline, or use a different color, or both. In that situation, though, it’s much easier to be confused by the link’s affordance. A user might, for example, confuse a link with bolding, or a title, or nothing in particular, or what have you.

The other thing going on here is consistency. In fact, a typical corollary to this quote is, “Things that behave similarly should look similar.” 

Now, the whole point of consistency – and standards, which help deliver that consistency – is reducing cognitive load. In other words, don’t make me think! So, if users have already learned a particular affordance elsewhere – on the web, on your site, in life in general – they don’t need to learn something new. 

Just to make this concrete, I once tested a mobile app that had a lot of inconsistency. Interestingly, though, this was mainly an issue of location. For example, the Submit button was on the bottom right, the bottom left, the top right, and the top left. The app was also pretty inconsistent when it came to terminology. Submit, for example, might be “Submit,” or “Done,” or “Complete,” or just-see-your-thesaurus.

So, it’s really not just about affordances. There are actually all sorts of ways to be inconsistent.

And if you have a door like this,
you’re going to need instructions to tell people what to do