Recipes do not make the dishes

I am always surprised to see how many books, articles, … exist on ergonomics with recipes on what not to do and what to do. However, you can only find very little information on how to do it!

There’s a whole series of rules and checklists with which to evaluate the usability of Internet sites:

– Is your homepage inviting?

– Is the navigation easy to understand?

– Does the site have a professional design?

In 99% of the cases, these criteria are very general. By that, I mean they cannot be used in particular cases. Because every site is unique!

In most cases these criteria are about commonsense and they are very subjective.

A simple example to demonstrate my point: the navigation of the Eurogentec site.

Eurogentec Navigation

Do you think the navigation is easy to understand? I think not. Still, this navigation is perfectly understandable for real users of the site, who are all researchers in molecular chemistry.

Another example: the homepage of the site for Electrabel.

Electrabel navigation

Is the navigation easy to understand? Depends on who you are.

The question at hand is to know whether the used terminology will help real users of the site to find the answers they are looking for. This will allow us to predict whether users will find their way around. And that’s something that the designer of the site can’t know, and me neither, because we can’t look inside the heads of thousands of people.

I can’t give you an answer to the question. What I can do, is analyze the navigation, using the appropriate tools and discover the navigation contains a number of lexicological areas of conflict. These conflicts will lead to hesitation on the part of the users, who will not be sure which category to choose.

Let’s take a simple scenario to illustrate our point. One which could affect a large number of Electrabel clients: “I want to find the best products and services to save energy”. Where does this client go?

  1. Je veux?
  2. Products and services?
  3. Energy saving?

All three could provide an answer to his question…

From a behavioural point of view, this is what we call mismanaged lexical and semantic intersections.

In this case, a user will most probably not know which element to choose. The designer of the site forces the user to make a choice. And this is a choice the user should not be required to make since he doesn’t know what content is hidden behind the different categories to choose from.

Most probably, the designer of the site is convinced the navigation is easy to understand.

After 15 years of experience in behavioural science, and over 150 projects in this domain, I realize every time that I don’t know what works and what doesn’t.

However, we can obtain 80% of concrete results for every mission.

How? By knowing what behaviour I need to generate and by using cutting-edge tools.

If a recipe would suffice to obtain results, the Forrester data on errors on Internet sites would be more encouraging…

Simplifyinginterfaces-Keypoints:Recipes do not make the dishes

Have a nice week… Marc

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