February 20, 2004

The Oversimplification of Mark Hurst

In his latest "Good Experience" email, Mark offers a series of notes for successfully addressing what he refers to as "the page paradigm." Unfortunately, he's misguided as often as he's on target.

Mark is basically correct when he states:
    - - - - - - - - - - The Page Paradigm - - - - - - - - - -
     |                                                       |
     |       On any given Web page, users will either...     |
     |                                                       |
     |   - click something that appears to take them closer  |
     |     to the fulfillment of their goal,                 |
     |                                                       |
     |   - or click the Back button on their Web browser.    |
     |                                                       |
     - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Unfortunately, this begs the question, "What is the user's goal?"

Throughout the piece, Mark talks up goals -- he even has a note devoted to capital-G "Goal." That capital demonstrates his key shortcoming -- Mark discourses as if you can design for a single user goal.,Yes, each user has a singular goal they are trying to achieve, however, each user's singular goal is likely different from one another.

Mark points to a case study for the earphones section of Shure.com as an exemplar of his approach.

I did a quick assessment of the site Mark points to, and I can say with no reservation that you should totally follow all of Mark's suggestions when you're designing a 26 page site. Which is how many pages comprise the Shure earphone site. (It gets a little over 50 if you include the Mobile Headset). For all of you out there designing sites with 50 pages, feel free to ignore consistency, breadcrumbs, and the notion of "where content should live." And focus on the Goal, because there won't be much more than one.

For those of you managing sites of more than 50 pages, heed Mark's suggestions at your own risk. It's been a while since I've worked on a site that had less than 1000 pages, and such sites require clear, coherent, and consistent navigation systems. Largely because this notion of "the Goal" doesn't apply -- many users have many different goals, and those goals will shift over time.

It's just this uncertainty and complexity that drives information architects (a group that Mark maligns in his piece) to provide navigation systems with wayfinding cues and breadcrumbing. I actually agree with Mark that users "don't care where they are" on a site -- they care about where to go to achieve their current goal. However, in order for a single system to enable thousands of different users to achieve their hundreds of different goals, it needs navigation system to support this unknown range of desires.

How do you address something like "the Goal" on a site like PeopleSoft.com? (At last count, with tens of thousands of pages). First off, PeopleSoft.com needs to support a wide range of users (prospective customers, current customers, partners, job-seekers, investors, analysts, press, etc.) Let's say we're going to focus just on prospective customers. Well, there are many different types of prospects -- executives, directors, managers, developers. And because this is a big ticket item, sales cycles run for months, with a visitors' goal evolving each time they return to the site. (And believe me -- if someone is returning to your site, they value a consistent navigation scheme, and maybe even breadcrumbs, to help them return to where they had been.)

I won't belabor the point any further. If you're a small e-commerce site, yes, do what Mark tells you. If you're not, then you might want to think twice. And I do agree Mark that, if you haven't seen The Producers (by which I mean the original film), watch it.
Posted by peterme at 07:43 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack


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