web design & scent
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a virtual seminar called The Scent of Information by Jared Spool at UIE. I try to stay on top of usability & UI design stuff, so a lot of it wasn’t brand-spanking-new, but it was definitely worth hearing again, especially since we’re in the middle of redesigning our website this summer. Since I don’t do well just sitting still and listening (continuous partial attention, anyone?), I jotted a bunch of notes while Jared did his thing.
- We often start with an hypothesis: people who have a lot of experience using the web will be able to find things easier. The fact? That’s not the case. At UIE, they’ve done a lot of research on why users tend to generally succeed with some sites and they’ve identified patterns (which is what the session is all about).
- The notion of “scent” is all about links that suck users in and get them to the content they’re looking for . It all happens through “trigger words”. Our users come to our websites looking for something (their “trigger words”), so if they can’t find their trigger words, they are immediately disoriented.
- The 3-clicks-to-content notion is something of a fallacy — as long as each click makes the user feel like they are getting closer to the content they need, they generally don’t care how many clicks it takes to get there. As users drill through your site, if the next click takes them to a general page, they lose the scent and they are disoriented.
- Users tend to resort to using your site’s search feature when there is not enough scent. Using the site search is the user trying to create his/her own scent.
- This is not so much the case with sites like amazon (or our OPACs), but generally true for web content.
- Another fallacy: “above the fold”. Users have no problem scrolling. The one thing to keep in mind is the “iceberg syndrome” — i.e. when users believe that everything above the fold is a representation of what’s below the fold.
- You can’t measure the scent of a page, but you can find out how confident your users are as they’re clicking through the site (with some user testing). When scent works, users are more confident.
On trigger words
- When they can’t find their trigger words, users will use the site search. The tend to type in the trigger words they were looking for in the first place, so check your site’s search logs for what those trigger words are.
- If they ask questions (desk, email, im), check what terms they are using. Those are their trigger words.
On scent blockers
- Navigation panels where labels are not easily understandable
- Navigation panels with labels that are not mutually exclusive
- Jargon (hello, “databases”, “indexes”, etc.)
- The stronger the link, the better it will suck users in.
- The best links have 7-12 words in them (wow!). With 7-12 words, users get more information and therefore have more confidence.
- More than 12 words might be too “noisy”, i.e. too many words masking the trigger word(s).
- “Cute” links lose scent (keep it real, yo).
- Don’t incorporate branding into the link because users need to see their trigger words.
- Have to use short links by necessity
- Use categories that are clear and mutually exclusive
- Make sure your subcategories give off scent about main categories (i.e. if users can see subcategories, e.g. drop-downs, it will orient them on what the main category is about).
On page length
- Short pages reduce scent.
- Longer pages include more content and that’s not a bad thing — users generally don’t mind scrolling.
- Horizontal rules are a deal-breaker — users tend to stop scrolling because they think it’s the end of the page.
On designing your website
- The link “site map” doesn’t give off scent except to say “here’s where the scent is” – if a lot of people look at your site map (like they use your site search), it’s probably because they don’t get any scent from your home page.
- Websites don’t have “sections” as far as users are concerned. We think of them as sections (as web designers and content folks), but users don’t care about sections. They just want to find their content.
- Designing from a scent-based perspective is better than a navigation-based perspective. Start at the content page and ask: what are all the pages the user needs to be sucked in from? Don’t start at the home page, build your navigation, then build your content pages (not very scent-full!).
On testing for scent
- When watching users use your site, before they click ask how likely it is that they think they will find what they’re looking for by clicking on that link.
- After they click: either they get the stuff they’re looking for, or the scent gets stronger. Ask if this page gets them closer to what they’re looking for.
- You know they’ve run out of scent when they use the back button and/or site search.
- You can’t design a great site without testing — if you don’t watch your users use your site, it’s near impossible that your design will work for them.