How users read on the web

How Users Read on the Web is an article from 1997 on writing style, formatting and language – and research on what worked best for websites. It’s old, but I’d still put stock in it, just from how tired I still get after reading hyped, flashy, marketing copy.

Here are some highlights:

People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.

[W]e found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links.

Users detested “marketese”; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims (“hottest ever”) that currently is prevalent on the Web. Web users are busy: they want to get the straight facts. Also, credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.

Check out the table with test results for how changing writing style improved usability. Their theory of why it happened hit home for me:

Our conjecture to explain this finding is that promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts “Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions,” their first reaction is no, it’s notand this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site.

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Guidelines for website credibility

Handy copypasta guidelines from the wiki page on the Stanford Web Credibility Project:

Guideline Additional Comments
1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site. You can build web site credibility by providing third-party support (citations, references, source material) for information you present, especially if you link to this evidence. Even if people don’t follow these links, you’ve shown confidence in your material.
2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site. Showing that your web site is for a legitimate organization will boost the site’s credibility. The easiest way to do this is by listing a physical address. Other features can also help, such as posting a photo of your offices or listing a membership with the chamber of commerce.
3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide. Do you have experts on your team? Are your contributors or service providers authorities? Be sure to give their credentials. Are you affiliated with a respected organization? Make that clear. Conversely, don’t link to outside sites that are not credible. Your site becomes less credible by association.
4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site. The first part of this guideline is to show there are real people behind the site and in the organization. Next, find a way to convey their trustworthiness through images or text. For example, some sites post employee bios that tell about family or hobbies.
5. Make it easy to contact you. A simple way to boost your site’s credibility is by making your contact information clear: phone number, physical address, and email address.
6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose). We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM.com. The visual design should match the site’s purpose.
7. Make your site easy to use—and useful. We’re squeezing two guidelines into one here. Our research shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use and useful. Some site operators forget about users when they cater to their own company’s ego or try to show the dazzling things they can do with web technology.
8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently). People assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed.
9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers). If possible, avoid having ads on your site. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your own. Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct, and sincere.
10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem. Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than most people imagine. It’s also important to keep your site up and running.

 

Why people don’t like carousels and what to do about it.

I got totally Baader-Meinhoffed last week with the accordion thing. Felt like flavour of the month, the way everyone wouldn’t shut up about it.

Actually it was just me and my colleagues having a rant. 🙂

In short:

People don’t like carousels, don’t care what they say
and don’t bother after the first panel
.

…so, for the ux-inclined, it’s frustrating that we still use them the way we do.

[B]oy does that homepage look like a juicy piece of prime real estate to a roomful of stakeholders. It’s hard to navigate these mini turf wars, so tools like carousels are used as appeasers to keep everyone from beating the shit out of each other.

via Carousels @ brad frost web

This ain’t a cry for blood, though. Typically, a design fails because of a combination of things – the medium, content and audience are incompatible. In the case of the humble carousel, we get the perfect storm of disharmony.

The Medium

Suppose your amazing marketing message is 4th in line on a carousel that spends 2 seconds per banner. This means the user will spend at least 6 seconds on filler before they get to your gold. That’s a long time in internet years.

The modern website carousel is like a TV ad break, only your favourite show won’t be back after those messages. Is this really the best way get users to pay attention and engage?

The Content

The write-ups on Nielsen’s Alertbox on Carousels and WeedyGarden’s Carousel Statssuggest that content can be a huge factor in carousels performing poorly.

After all, e-books and real paper books behave in the same way, sequentially feeding the audience one piece of information at a time – and most of us know how hard it is to put down a good book. This highlights the importance of storytelling in this space, something we tend to miss in the mish-mash of unrelated banners on a rotation.

Brian Krogsgard’s Sliders Suck says it could be totally appropriate to use a carousel when using the carousel is the end goal, not the means to the end.

The Audience

When a slider item is active, it’s more important than everything else on the page. When a slider item is inactive, it’s completely unimportant.

via Slide Rules @ Bearded Blog

The implicit assumption of a carousel is that the item on display will be relevant to the person viewing the page. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, saying how one size does not fit all.

And we don’t have to look too deep into behavioural stuff (like banner blindness, tunnel vision and selective attention) or user agent stuff (like hardware capabilities, or compatibility with screen readers) to figure we might be slightly sub-optimal in catering for our users’ needs with sliding banners.

So, what do we do?

The tests say no to carousels, and you’ll find many, many voices in chorus about why. But sometimes we’ll have to use them, and sometimes we’ll actually want to use them – it’ll feel right, even though it seems wrong. We all have nights like this.

The problem isn’t in the doing, but in how it’s done. And we could be doing it less wrong.

Start this way:

  • Make the content more interesting. (source 1source 2Can’t stress this enough.
  • Limit the number of items in a carousel. (source)
  • Make the navigation obvious, so users can skip. (source)
  • Mind the interaction design stuff, don’t do the annoying crap. (source)

Thank you to @niaalist for sharing the links in this post.

10 tips for mobile UX

Read: Ten Tips for Mobile UX from Red Ant

I like this article. It focuses on taking a thoughtful approach to mobile UX, rather than offering spot-fixes for your design. A great primer for when you’re ready to embark on a new project.

Thanks, @BishoyGhaly for the link!

Tl;dr:

  1. Start by designing with mobile in mind.
  2. Identify your users – are they here to get something done or to browse?
  3. 80% of app users will use just 20% of the functionality – tailor your analytics and future improvements to suit.
  4. Use task-based design – craft the easiest way to get stuff done.
  5. Keep it simple.
  6. Respect the platform’s quirks – eg. UI elements, behaviour, etc.
  7. Capture more than just touch – eg. geolocation, sound, lighting, etc.
  8. Design for interruption – mobile users get interrupted a lot.
  9. Continually evolve and improve.
  10. Fall back on best practise and your own experience.

Get attention by being useful

The best branded apps do not belong to a campaign, they are not simply another channel through which to communicate the current brand message or product promotion. They are a utility in their own right; something useful that earns the attention of consumers.

Source: Branded Apps vs Brand Advertising. How being useful gets consumers’ attention too.

A little consensus on yesterday’s post from the world of apps, via @adapptor.

Getting attention and being worthy of it

It’s so damn disappointing to be drawn in by a catchy teaser only to find you’ve wasted eye/ear/brain space on something with no substance.

The well-cut movie trailer for a terribad film; vaguebook status updates that pepper your feed; that guy who’s great at saying something shocking but can’t follow it up with a well-considered argument – it’s all about stealing your attention, but giving nothing back.

[B]ecause we live in the age of attention scarcity, many people think that getting attention is the hard part. But attention isn’t actually the rarest commodity in the 21st century.

Trust is.

Copyblogger shares why it’s important to be worth the attention you ask for:

Making heaps of decisions makes you tired

Have you heard of decision fatigue?

It’s the tiredness you feel after having to make many choices over a short period of time. I guess the anxiety of choice eventually wears you out, making you less able to assess risk vs reward, and more prone to making impulse decisions.

For the more psych-nerdy among us, this is part of a bigger phenomenon known as ego depletion – the idea that willpower is a finite resource that needs to be recharged.

Get learned, Pepe:

So what about this in the context of UX – how can we strike a good balance between offering information and choice, and not overwhelming people to the point of fatigue?

UX research is actually cheap and accessible if you do it smart

Interesting quote on being practical about UX: (it’s in the video)

“For some reason, entrepreneurs love having arguments about what their product should be, even though they’re never convinced that they’re wrong – but they find it intellectually satisfying to win all these arguments cos founders always think they know what to do.

“The framework we need instead is to translate all of these opinion battles into empirical questions for testing. So let us discover which elements of our product are brilliant and which ones are wrong. Even if you’re 100% right about everything, let’s just double check – double check – that the world really does work the way that your business plan says.”

— Eric Ries

via Lean Startup Is Great UX Packaging (Smashing Magazine)

Tl;dr – Good UX research doesn’t have to be arduous and expensive. It’s just explained in a way that makes it seem so. DIY: Be empirical, validate your theories and the things you learn.

Voice and tone – adapting to emotions and mindsets that underpin user scenarios

http://voiceandtone.com

Much of the time, we take a pragmatic approach to communicating with our users – as in: “Here’s a situation. Here’s what they need to know. Let’s tell them.” And much of the time, our circumstances are so simple, we get away with not fussing more.

Other times, it pays to consider a user’s emotions and mindset in a given situation, particularly when the stakes are high, a subject is touchy, a topic is complicated, or if the brand we represent is less than trusted.

The company who run MailChimp (a diy email newsletter service) run an interactive handbook of common communication scenarios, what users are feeling in those scenarios, and simple tactics for adapting your language to address those feelings.

All the examples are relative to email marketing, but skimming a few will give you a feel for good ways to cater to your audience’s mood.