4: Why Users Like Mindless Choices
A central debate to Web usability is how much effort a user will put into getting what they want before they will become frustrated and leave.
Unfortunately, this leads to some wrong-headed thinking, like the supposed "rule" that it should take no more than three clicks to get from the home page to a task. The number of clicks doesn't matter as much as how hard it is to decide what to click. Users will continue of the path so long as each click is easy to identify and they have the sense they are getting constantly closer to their goal.
He mentions a personal experience of attempting to purchase a printer for his home office - and arriving at a site where there were two options - one for home and one for office. This creates some level of uncertainty, and the expectation that you might have top spend quite some time snooping about the wrong area.
Another bit of confusion was a magazine web site that had different logins for "subscribers" and "members" - which was confounding. The difference, as it turns out, is that subscribers to their print magazine get access to the content of their Web site, but people who wanted access to the site without a paper magazine were called "members." He had to read each option carefully to work out which way to enter.
And to make matters worse, a subscriber needed to provide his account from the label on the paper magazine ... which meant that in order to read an article online, you had to have the printed magazine containing the very same article in your hands (or memorize your subscriber account number).
There are obvious solutions to both of these problems, but each would require an "extra" click - so it's entirely likely the site designer was counting clicks rather than considering what makes sense to the user.
Coaching the User
Another senseless "rule" of design is that the user should be able to figure out what to do without reading any content. This goes back to the notion that people don't read, and ignores the fact that they scan for words that make sense to them.
It's perfectly acceptable to provide instructions or directions to the user that will help them get to the right place - rather than hoping they will guess it on their own. But in those instances, consider this:
- Brief - Long and elaborate instructions are ignored
- Timely - Available at the time it is needed (EN: online, this is more about proximity)
- Noticeable - Formatted in a way that the user will recognize that it is related to the element they are interacting with
(EN: To those, I would add "user-oriented" - in that the user doesn't need to know how something works, but only how to do what they want to do.)
He mentions the "look right" notice in crosswalks in London - which are designed to remind tourists that traffic is coming from the opposite direction. Two words is brief, placing it at an intersection makes it available exactly where needed, and placing it where the person is about to step makes it noticeable.