Maybe we should think a little.
Posted in The Gnovis Blog
Right now you are interacting with a website. Before this site went live someone (or a team of people) put a lot of time into making it easy for you to find, navigate, and stay. Designers take their time to make it look like somewhere you want to be, and work exactly how you (the user, every user) want it to work. Consequently user experience (UX) is growing in importance, and one generally accepted principle surrounding the UX concept is simplicity.
Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make me Think (new window) explains the ideas behind UX, and his title sums up his entire point, that if something is not expressly laid out and easy, the visitor will leave. Right now I am designing a new website with UX at the forefront, but also considering the importance of webmaster experience (WX), something that gets very little notice since the webmaster is supposed to be a webMASTER. This new site I am planning will replace my current personal site, which works from the UX standpoint, but maintaining a positive UX took a lot more work from WX perspective.
Currently, my site is handwritten HTML code designed and maintained through Adobe Dreamweaver; with this method, each page I added required that I manually create an access point to the page (navigation). Media, including pictures and video, each had to be placed in the right directory and then properly linked. As a result, adding a single page to the site while preserving a positive UX proved a time-consuming endeavor not to be undertaken by the faint of heart.
How does one maintain a positive UX in this system? You don’t. It’s too complicated for moderately complex sites, sites that have a single purpose but a handful of different “major” sections and hundreds of pages, but my site did not start out that way, and at the time, it was the simplest solution to satisfy both UX and WX. Krug does not fully address how a webmaster or designer needs to take updating and maintenance into account when designing a positive user experience, since failing to account for these two factors could result in a negative UX in the future.
Krug focuses on other elements of UX, user testing and simplicity being central to his book. Why user testing? How else are you going to know how a user interacts with your site unless you have users interact with your site? Why simplicity? Krug holds that individuals look for the path of least resistance to solve their problems, and if you do not provide that path, a user will seek an alternative, and then nothing else matters.
While his book centers around navigation and menus, if a user is unhappy with the “look” of a site, it is equally detrimental to user retention. A cartoon on theoatmeal.com (new window) examined the idea of look from a web designer’s perspective. While not fully comprehensive, it does shed light on the UX concept that design and UX are unique to each individual engaging with the site.
Does my site that I am building conform to Krug’s ideas? I am switching from handmade HTML pages to a CMS which will autolink and handle my menus. I focus on my target audience, what they will be looking for in the site, and their sophistication with web technologies. Although mostly correct, Krug does not give users enough credit in looking for online information: a user landed on your site for a reason, and they have prior experience with websites that they bring to each new page they visit. For a website owner, is conformity better than perfection, or would it be preferable to sacrifice the user’s ability to navigate for the best site around? This question is in flux; it has been since mass communication became popular, and it will continue to inspire debate in a post-web age.