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

February 15, 2004

Research and Development in Interaction Design

In the February 16 & 23 issue of The New Yorker, James Surowiecki devotes his The Financial Page column to the unproductive R&D departments in big pharma. My first thought was, "That sounds just like Microsoft Research." Now, I don't know about Microsoft Research in detail, but I've occasionally run across their work since 1998, when I saw a couple folks present at CHI on whether web sites perform better as broad and shallow, or narrow and deep.

As this list of projects suggests, Microsoft devotes tons of money to research and development. But to what end? I admit I can't say much about many aspects of the computing world, but with respect to interaction design, all that I know that's actually emerged from Microsoft research is the office assistant, AKA Clippy, and we know how well that's done. There are numerous other projects that have produced academic papers and little else. Marc Smith has recently gotten a lot of attention for research he's been conducting over the last 5 years on social software, though what people outside of the industry don't seem to realize is that no one cares about methods of conversation on USENET.

I think about this as I sit in front of my 12" PowerBook G4, which is riddled with interaction design innovation. Perhaps my favorite is LaunchBar, an app that lets me launch pretty much any program or file with just a few intuitable keystrokes. Or OmniGraffle, whose smart alignment and distance guides make positioning graphics a snap. Or SubEthaEdit, enabling easy-as-pie collaborative document editing.

And, on the web, we've seen things like Google (started by two guys from Stanford), blogging tools like Blogger (started by Pyra when it was three people), MovableType (Ben and Mena, so, two people), Slashdot (CmdrTaco and Hemos), Netomat (mostly Maciej),

Perhaps Steve Jobs was right to kill Apple's vaunted Advanced Technology Group. It seems that product teams are responsible for their own innovation, and, what do you know, it's working (Rendezvous, iTunes, Expose, etc. etc.)! Contrast this with Remail, from IBM's research labs, which garnered some buzz when the site launched, but which I doubt we'll ever see in any piece of shipping software. I mean, I love Babble as much as the next geek, but where is it getting us? And where is it getting IBM?

Posted by peterme at 05:40 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack


See Me Travel
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
Archives from June 13, 2001 to January 2003
Archives from before June 13, 2001
Recent Entries
The Oversimplification of Mark Hurst
Research and Development in Interaction Design
Subscribe to my feed:
Powered by
Movable Type 3.2