July 24, 2006

Designing to Delight - Letting Your Web Site Users Rule

Kathy Sierra at Passionate Users takes a look at that sweet spot for users where they feel empowered and say "I rule". Visitors enjoy sites where they feel in control and empowered. Not enough features can frustrate users. But too many features can overwhelm them. All the features and bushels full of content can blur the focus of the site or the page.

Sometimes, when working with library web teams, I've encountered the desire to provide too much information. The desire to offer so many options on the search form or a particular page on the site or in order to be as complete and exact as possible, the site visitor is left slogging through mountains of content, features and options trying to sort out what they need and what is important. Rather than a refreshing drink of water, your site blasts them with a fire hose.

One of my colleagues commented that desire to provide too much information isn't just limited to the web site but can happen at the reference desk. He joked that in his library they have a saying: "When you see them backing away from the desk, just let them go." We need to temper our enthusiastic desire to provide all the information we think that the user needs to know up front with an understanding of what the user wants to know first and a knowledge of understanding how people navigate, scan, and look for information on web sites.

Featuritis CurveKathy's illustration of the "Featuritis Curve" shows the tightrope walk that designers must walk between creating enough features to delight users but not so many that they are overwhelmed.

Creeping featurism and bloated content pops up on lots web sites and makes the site less usable. It's important to head off creeping featurism and expanding content at the pass when you spot them popping up in a web development meeting. Bring the team back to earth by asking "What is the primary purpose of the page or the form?" What information supports the next succesful action? What must be there? What is optional? If the team wants to offer five ways to find articles, would it be better to provide a page that shows two of the options one one page and provide links to three more alternatives? Where do we need to focus? We don't have to cover off every "what if" or special case. Less can be more. Too many options can obscure what is important. It's important to keep in mind that just because you can doesn't you mean should.

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