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Balancing Mystery and Usability
by Vikas Kamat

First Online: August 26, 2001
Page Last Updated: October 31, 2016 

Website Design Dilemmas
Balancing Mystery and Usability | Navigational Toolbars | Content Rotation

Summary

Presenting a series of pictures on a theme or subject poses a problem on the web -- the surfers may not follow the sequence indicated by the designer. Many designers follow a slide-show format, allowing users to jump to a particular slide. For Kamat's Potpourri pictures, I had to decide between these two choices:

 1  2  3  4  5  6 7 8 9 10

The Proverbial Slide Show

The Kamat Poker Face

The slide show format lists the various pages. Since the links are text, the user benefits from the browser's default visited page visual feedback. First suggested by Aparna Burde, this navigation has a small footprint, has a WhereAmI indicator, but does not indicate which pages have been previously visited.

Introduction

One of the biggest challenges a web designer faces is the striking of the balance between art and the science components of the web design. A classic instance of this dilemma is whether or not to expose the depth of a story or search results (how many total pages are there for the reader to explore) to the reader.

If you ask the readers, they will say that they care how many total hits were returned on the search query -- never mind that the last 22,000 were useless, remote matches. But in reality, surfers do not care whether or not the search engine found 2000 results or 22000, as long as they find what they need. So the efforts taken by many designers to show the numbers IMHO are unnecessary.

What if you were not looking for anything in particular, but something interesting?
What if most of the people enter your site on the 4th slide?!

Web Navigation is Stateless

Search engines (Yahoo! till 1999, Google since) bring us the most traffic, and people so entering the site not always enter from the first page! Imagine going to a site and if the first thing you see is a page "Showing 9 of 200 Pictures of Tiger"... obviously the designer forgot that the web pages needed to be stand alone!

The poker face seemed like a very usable navigation for Kamat's Potpourri, and has allowed us to encourage large scale deep linking into the site. You can randomly go to any page and then randomly go to any other page on Kamat's Potpourri. I have not provided the back and forth buttons because in my opinion, that's the first thing Web surfers learn to use on the browser (and designers those who break the browser's back button, are not Web-savvy, and should not be designing user experiences).

The Dilemma

I chose the Poker face for two reasons -- it is very compact, allowing for listing of a large number of similar pictures. The second, it allowed me to deep link to each and every page on the site. All our see also sections are compiled this way allowing for a large database of inbred hyperlinks.

IMHO, there is one major flaw with the poker face -- it does not give visual feedback to the user on which of the pages she has just visited -- just like a visited link would change color in a browser. It can be solved by putting a border around the images, and let the browser handle all the intelligence. Yahoo! has taken this approach, but the visuals look unattractive when so many small images are grouped together. I have since found refuge in our punch line --The history, mystery of India. Many users I had interviewed told me that they liked the fact that when they click that red block on the poker face, they had no idea what would show up -- perhaps a familiar picture, perhaps not -- but they liked that they did not know what would come up. This is the reason why there are no alt-tags on those red blocks.

Website Design Dilemmas
Balancing Mystery and Usability | Navigational Toolbars | Content Rotation

 

See Also:

Books on Designing Web User Experiences

 

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