How real users view your web site

I’m running some remote usability tests this week where I ask participants to share their desktop with me. I’m viewing the tests on a 30″ Apple Cinema Display and it’s easy to forget the lower-spec hardware that many users still struggle with day-to-day. Here’s a screenshot from one participant: you’ll notice:

  • Users install lots of crap in their browser (either deliberately or inadvertantly).
  • The browser chrome and toolbars take up over a third of the display.
  • When viewing the results of a Google search, just one natural search result appears above the fold.

I’m not saying that this configuration is typcial, but it’s certainly not unusual to find this when you look at the way “real” users use the web, rather than the digerati.

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No wonder Groupon are going out of business

I read that Groupon are struggling at the moment. I thought I’d visit their site and have a cursory look at the user experience.

It turns out that they won’t even let you use the site without signing up — or at least, they hide the close box behind the pop-up so well that it may as well be registration only.

This kind of design mistake went out in the mid-90s. 

They could also do with some help with their geolocation algorithm. They think I’m in Belfast. In fact, I’m currently in Stamford, CT. 

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The BBC show how to design an iPhone carousel

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The BBC’s new iPlayer Radio app has a carousel at the bottom of the screen that you can use to scroll through the various channels.

At first when I saw it I thought it was a bit skeuomorphic: I thought the design team were trying to replicate a circular tuning dial that you might find on a physical device.

But when you use it, you realise it’s actually a very clever design. This is because, when you’re using it with one hand, your thumb moves in an arc. This makes the interaction very natural — even ‘ergonomic’.

Like most of what the BBC do, the whole app is very well thought through. I love the way that a publicly-owned organisation like the BBC is showing its richer competitors how to do user experience design.

Must try harder

I saw these two juxtaposed tweets in my Twitter stream today. These kinds of issues are par for the course with new software, but in an old timer like Office it’s very hard to excuse.

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A design pattern to avoid scroll stoppers

I was reading about a book on Amazon today when I came across this:

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Take a look at that last bullet.

The designers have greyed it out to indicate that there’s more content available. 

Now I know that the ‘Show More’ link should be sufficient, but frankly if that second bullet had been in the same black colour as the first one, I’m sure I would have missed it. After all, there are quite a few links on Amazon product pages and this one runs the risk of disappearing into the noise.

This is similar to the problem Jared Spool describes as ‘scroll stoppers’: a design element (like a horizontal rule) that makes you think the page has loaded all of the content when in fact there’s more to be seen below the fold. 

I think that the Amazon designers have done a clever job in creating a design pattern that avoids this effect. I wonder if a browser vendor will implement the same kind of pattern at the bottom of a browser page to indicate that it has more content?

We have expectations about page layout

Quick question: If you wanted to search this web site for a product, where would you click?

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Maybe you managed to stop yourself in time, realising that the field at the top right is in fact a newsletter sign up form, not search. But I’m sure that they must have many other users who type search requests in that field. The fact is, we have certain expectations about where certain items will be on a web page. As a designer it makes sense to cash in on those expectations rather than try to subvert them.

User control and freedom

A basic rule of software design is to provide people with an emergency exit, if (for example), they don’t happen to have the device handy when they decide to install the software.

So how do I get out of this screen?

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