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Category "Web Development"

 

Tips To Creating Better Website Navigation

By Nathan Moore
October 07, 2008
 

Navigation should not be taken lightly since it is the most important interfacing utility on your website. Many times, people throw in whatever they think is important on the site. This is almost like going to the fridge and throwing together everything you like into one salad - it is just not effective and will probably leave a bad taste in your mouth.

1. Think

Navigation should be thought through carefully. When considering the top level navigation, it is usually better to cut out options than add them. Sit down with a pen and paper and map out each section and page that needs to be in the navigation (notice I did not say “that you want to be in the navigation”).

2. Prioritize

This fits hand-in-hand with the first tip. Determine the options in which your user will be most interested. What are the sections most used on your site? How do users flow through your site? Do they check one section first, then another? How can you arrange the navigation and options to improve the user experience?

3. Group

Try to group items into logical contexts. If it does not fit in the group, then it needs to go somewhere else. Many links live perfectly fine in the footer. Don’t think that every single section/link/page needs to be in the main navigation cascade.

4. Optimize

More times than not, the first stab at a navigation is not the most effective. Analyze your traffic flows and adjust accordingly. If you find that your users are not clicking on the “About Us” page, then it may be better to link to this page in the footer. You goal is to create the best navigation interface possible for the user. Give them what they need to make browsing the site most effective.

 
 

5 Annoying Ways Websites Hijack User Experience (And Lose Users)

By Nathan Moore
June 24, 2008
 

Some web developers tend to believe that the more control they maintain over the user’s experience on a website, the better the experience will be. On the other hand, sometimes, it is the client that insists on certain gimmicky “features” in order to make what, in their minds, is a better website. The more control, the better - right? Ugh.

Websites should gently guide the user experience. It is the job of the web developer to keep the experience from being hijacked and explain these reasons to the client. It is the job of the client to understand why it is essential to guide the user experience instead of commandeering it. Here are 5 annoying ways that websites spit in the face of this mentality by hijacking the user experience:

1. Automatically Resizing the Browser

This is one of the most annoying ways to hijack the user experience. Anytime I visit a site and find that my browser has been resized by some sort of Javascript code, I immediately leave that site. Usually, this “feature” is requested by clients that want their users to be engulfed by the entire site - usually clients that are too proud of their work. The problem today is that users normally have several sites open in tabs and by hijacking the browser and resizing it to what you think is best, it screams that you are more important than anything else on their computer. Leave the browser size alone.

2. Automatically Playing Music

Nothing is worse than enjoying the new Coldplay album in iTunes and then visiting a website that automatically starts playing music that you never asked for. Now I have Coldplay and some cheesy trance music mixed together, polluting the musical atmosphere. I equate this to pulling up next to someone at a stop light that has music blaring, windows down, with no regard to anyone else in earshot. Unless you are a band or a record label (in which case I would still not recommend it, but at least it makes sense), do not automatically play any music even if you have a way for the user to stop it. A nice opt-in music player is the way to go. Let the user choose what comes through their speakers.

3. Automatically Playing Video

This goes hand-in-hand with automatically playing music. Unless the user expects to see a video that automatically plays, do not hijack the experience. For example, if the user clicks a link reading, “See a funny video,” and this link takes them to another page with the video, it would be okay to autoplay the video. Other than that, allow the user to choose when to play the video.

4. Making Links Open in New Windows

This is one hijacking technique that can be debatable. Users are very familiar with the back button on the browser - Heck, even Firefox  now has an enlarged back button to signify hierarchy over the other buttons in the top interface. However, many times, clients feel that if a user clicks on a link to another site, they have essentially lost that user. Solution? Open all external links in a new window. However, this usually does more harm than good. More advanced users know how to use a back button, so if they wish to go back to the site, they can simply use this knowledge and hit the back button. Similarly, these users are also accustomed to having links open in new windows. Therefore, they know how to close a window to get back to the site if the link opened in that fashion. On the other hand, a user without much experience may not realize that a new window has opened when a link is clicked. Thus, when they want to go back to the original site, they may click on the disabled back button - becoming frustrated with this unexpected turn of events. Play it safe. Just allow links to work the way links were meant to work. Don’t force a link to open in a new window.

 5.  Popover Ads

These are becoming more and more popular. I am sure that most users are familiar with them - they are the ads that pop over the rest of the content on the page until you click the (often hidden) close button/link. Again, this is hijacking the user experience because the user expects one thing and receives another. When clicking to read an article, users want to read the article (novel concept, I know). Users don’t want to play the “betcha can’t figure out how to close this ad” game in order to get to the content. Banner ads are bad enough - don’t cover the content with annoying popover ads.

All in all, just be mindful of and respect your users. Keep away from things that force an experience. Always give the user a choice and strategically guide them through an experience. Your website will be better for it and your users will stick around longer.

Subscribe to the Anthology blog to get future posts or check out Building Websites With Effective Communication.

 
 

The “Click Here” Disease: Click Here to Read More

By Nathan Moore
May 13, 2008
 

You should never use the words “Click Here” in a text link. And just to be clear - the title of this post should be characterized as ironic.

The “Click Here” text is one of the key signs of unprofessionalism on a website, and here is the conceptual equation to prove it: “Click Here” != Professionalism

(It should also be noted that there is a positive correlation between frequency of “Click Here” links and really, really bad design, but that is not the point here.)

The web has conventions. Conventions exist for a reason. Strategic developers and designers know how to utilize conventions to cut out excess fat, which ultimately leads to more elegant and more effective communication.

CONVENTION: Links are underlined and usually a different color.

Anyone that has used the Internet understands that when words are underlined, they posses the ability to be clicked. The action of clicking will deliver a new page or other expected feedback to the user. When the text “Click Here” is used, the understood link convention is not being utilized.

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When I was brushing my teeth the other day, I noticed that the cap on the toothpaste did not read “Twist Here To Open Toothpaste.” There is an understood convention by anyone that has opened a tube of toothpaste that to open, one must twist the cap. However, some futuristic toothpaste tubes (you know, the ones that stand on their own) often have flip-caps. These flip-caps usually have some sort of text or graphic to cue the user to flip the cap in order to open. The convention for the toothpaste tube interface (twisting the cap) is in violation of the actual interface in the case (flipping the cap), thus a cue needs to be present to increase usability. (However, the flip-cap is becoming used more often and consumers will eventually adopt the flip-cap as being a common convention - at which point, no cue will be needed).

On the web, it is very easy to cue the user that a link exists: links are underlined and colored. If this is true, no further cues need to exist. Any text that follows this convention will be understood to be a link. Thus, the “Click Here” text is not necessary.

Consider the following examples:

Old: Click here to watch a video of my son golfing.
New: Watch my son play golf
Or: My son and I golfed on Tuesday (watch the video)

Old: Click here to register.
New: Join the Community

Old: Click here to sign up for the email list.
New: Sign Up for the email list

Using web conventions to help your text links rather than adding excess text will help your website usability, and the world will be a happier place.

It should also be noted that users expect your links to be underlined and in a different color from the normal copy, otherwise the convention breaks and usability is tossed out the window.

Subscribe to the Anthology Creative blog to catch future articles about web design, development, and common sense.

 
 

Building Websites with Effective Communication

By Nathan Moore
April 08, 2008
 

“The problem with communication… is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” -George Bernard Shaw

Communication is essentially what Anthology does. Sure, at the surface, we create some really nice designs and we develop functional websites - but websites function as communicative devices - and as I explored in The Anatomy of Great Design Part 01, great design starts with effective communication. So, the goal at the core of all of this is to communicate to your audience.

As simple as this concept may seem, it is overlooked far too often.

Let’s take websites for example. As companies explore building a website, the natural tendency is to make an attempt to impress potential customers. Too many times, the requests are filled with desires to hijack the user experience (not intentionally), create menus that move and sparkle, and bring attention to non-important items. These requests have the same goal as an executive that purchases a flashy sports car just to “show off” when meeting clients. At the end of the day, the car may be impressive, but whether the job is done effectively is what ultimately matters to the client.

When this tendency to impress is extended into web development, it cripples the ability to communicate effectively. Flashy design, gimmicky features, and unnecessary copy cloud the ultimate goals of the site. And, unfortunately, too many times, the web developer has to lay down and submit to the clients requests - and when that happens, the job is not being completed with excellence.

The problem is that when the site is finished and everyone has gone home, the company may be thrilled with the impressive new website, but if it does not communicate effectively and meet the needs of the users, it is ultimately a failure - it is the illusion that communication has been accomplished.

The next time you are building a new site for your company, keep these things in mind:

1. Deny The Desire To Impress - Users will only be impressed the first time they visit your site. After that, the only thing that keeps them coming back is functionality and ease of use. If you can say “that is coooooool,” it probably is doing more harm than good.

2. Develop A Site For Your Client, Not Yourself - Keep the user in mind when determining how you site will look and how it will function. The site may be about you, but it is more about your user.

3. Determine The Key Goals - And do not add anything to the site that does not directly or indirectly encourage the success of these goals. Stay focused.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to be heard in the comments section. And as always, remember to subscribe to the RSS for future posts on design, web development, and online marketing.