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Don’t break the user experience

Breaking web design conventions = breaking the user experience

The esteemed Nielsen Norman Group has turned its attention towards the controversial redesign of the Bucknell University website. The redesign is high in visual impact, but is heavy on gimmicks. It is found to have poor usability due to its confusing user interface and navigation.

A lot of the lessons from this article reflect common findings from the wider world. We already knew that, while customisation options on the homepage may be an attractive gimmick, users themselves barely ever touch them and often become confused when they do. Employing horizontal navigation was also (to put it politely) a brave decision.

Of note is the analysis of the audience-based navigation, which chimes with the article from Although we strive to take a user-centred approach, it is not always sensible to name your sections after the target audiences.

Bucknell’s audiences in the Start Exploring menu are distinct, which is good. But role-based navigation like this poses the same problems it does on other university sites. Users don’t necessarily self-identify, and they often don’t understand which audience category contains the content that they want. For example, many parents view the page for prospective students well before they view the page for parents. Evaluate whether topic-based organization might be more efficient for your users. And if you are using audience-based organization, be sure that each audience is specific and distinct, and include the information that is most relevant to that audience.

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