The worst kind of user?


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In another experience with a “bad” website design (by my standards) I struggled to find the “Contact” information for a company – I looked for something big, something in the footer, something on the right hand side, all in frustration.

It only took my “non-web” friend a glance to spot that the Contact link was actually near the top left of the page – the last place I would expect to look for that information.

This is an excerpt from a blog post by a young lass named Anthea Whittle, whom I had the pleasure to meet, chat to, and be wowed by[1. By wowed I mean I found her articulate, knowledgeable, perceptive, and pleasant. This is either because she actually is all of these things (propbably), or I’m not very many (if any) of these things (probably), or both (likely).] at Webstock.

The scenario described above has happened to me many times, and it is frustrating. But why? I’m a web nerd. I’m more web savvy that many people I know, so how could I have trouble finding how to do simple things on some websites? I could argue that it was bad design that put the contact info over there, when I expected it to be here. But if others can find it just fine, is it me, not the design, that’s the problem?

If I take my brand/identity design experience (I’m a newb when it comes to designing for web) I could confidently say there are certain standards and general truths that apply to designing a logo. A simple example: you wouldn’t use pink to represent a banking institution. Why? Banking institutions want to appear strong, stable, trustworthy. You can achieve this with dark, bold colours like black, dark blue, grey (accented with a brighter colour to add life and dynamic). But probably not pink.

These are things you accept as a truth in logo design (there are always exceptions through). But why? Much of the reason is it what we’re used to. It’s what we’ve seen before. It has been repeated, so we feel that dark colours represent stability and trustworthiness.

Couldn’t it be the same for web design? Possibly. Over time certain truths will emerge as more and more people get access and familiarity in using the web. Also, as time goes on and these truths emerge, they’ll be helped along by designers recognising these truths, and designing for them. Kind of a reverse catch-22 in real-time.

The take-away questions (from the conversation with Anthea[2. The conversation with Anthea was great (for me at least), especially since she’s the kind of person to link to an image like this).] are:

  1. Are these trends “correct”?, and
  2. Does it matter if it’s correct, when we end up having a more usable web in the long run?