Making distinctions clear, infinite scrolling, and stock photos
Jakob Nielsen’s latest article is highly relevant to us, as it looks specifically at information architecture decisions made by university admissions departments. This study demonstrates that what may be obvious to us, as people who understand the system, may not be so obvious to a teenager who has not yet acquired the research skills that they’re going to university to develop.
…[A]nyone who works in a university admissions department probably thinks that “resident tuition” is a highly explicit description of that option. Such distinctions are obvious to people with well-formed mental models of the domain. However, new users approach your design with a fuzzy (or even malformed) mental model of your domain.
So, anytime you hear design meeting participants say “X is obvious,” remember that it might not be so obvious to people outside your organization.
The clearer and more explicit you can be — especially about distinctions — the more successful your site will be.
One of the most irritating design trends of recent times has been infinite scrolling, whereby a webpage fills up with more and more content as you scroll towards the bottom, making it impossible to actually reach the bottom. While it is a good idea in theory, as it reduces the amount of clicking, it can make pages more difficult to use and removes the user’s sense of control. And what if you want to click a link that’s in the footer?
Etsy, an e-commerce marketplace, implemented infinite scrolling, only to find that it led to fewer clicks from its users. Infinite scrolling was unsuccessful because users felt lost in the data and had difficulty sorting between relevant and irrelevant information. While infinite scrolling provided faster and more results, users were less willing to click on them, defeating its very purpose.
Does this story also tell us something about the perils of using stock photos?
Stock shots, in case you weren’t aware, are photographs illustrating general themes taken not for a specific purpose but to supply magazines, advertisers or anybody else with a library of useful images. Look up “mean boss” or “couple arguing” online and you’ll get the gist. Having modelled for a few, you soon start to notice yourself looking worried about a mortgage here, or suffering from PMT there.