Web Design and Bus Riding – what do they have i common?
I had a “flash,” an insight into web design while riding on a city bus the other day.
I’m going to draw an analogy between the process whereby a bus passenger signals to the driver to that they want to get off the bus at the next stop and the placement of buttons and other navigational aids on your web site. This particular bus system does not offer riders the use of the standard pull cord for signaling the driver.
To signal the driver there are little yellow buttons that are placed all over the passenger section, along with buttons on either side of the rear exit door to allow passengers to open it when the bus has come to a stop and they need to exit. On two occasions I have seen passengers get anxious and frustrated when it came time to both signal the driver and open the rear doors, possibly afraid that they would miss their stop (fortunately, in both cases the driver came to the rescue). There was no prominent signage (if any) instructing them in how to do so.
It is quite possible that these passengers were looking for the traditional pull-cord that is still used for “stop-signaling” and they quite possibly assumed the exit door was either manually operated or would open automatically at each stop. One aspect of the analogy I would like to draw between good web design and this bus is this: in both cases you have buttons that need to be clicked on in order to get to your next stop, and in both cases confusion and uncertainty can cause problems for the people who need to click on them.
To get more specific, here are some useful conclusions that can be drawn from that bus-riding experience and applied to web design:
Simple site navigation is best
1.) Make your site navigation simple enough to be understood without hesitation. Think of a complex and busy freeway interchange with a lot of choices. As a driver who needs to pick an exit in this situation, you don’t want to have to think. You want to be guided clearly. As a web designer, you want the signs to be big, bold, and unambiguous. You also want to prepare your visitors (drivers!) as far in advance – whenever advisable and possible – for upcoming choices. I was a big city cab driver once (the analogies between that job and web design are almost endless), and missing a freeway on- or off-ramp can make for an unhappy customer as well as time and money lost for the driver.
2.) When in doubt, “dumb it down.” Even the most circuitous navigational path boils down to one or more either-or(s): are they going to click on the link(s) you want them to click on or not. Treat your web page links like those exit and stop buttons on that bus. A few easy to read and prominently placed signs on that bus telling passengers to click on those buttons would have done a lot of good.
3.) Don’t let your visitors get lost. This, in principle, is the thing you want to consummately avoid. It doesn’t take a heck of a lot of design and rethinking to do this. Imagine yourself panicking in a big box store with no one to help you when confronted by 50 or more aisles and a whole lot of different product sections. You just need someone to help clear up a few questions/some low-level confusion and your intelligence begins to kick in and solve the problem for you. A few strategically placed buttons on your web pages can do wonders. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes…just pretend you’re organizing your closet or the desk in your home office.
4.) Go over navigational directions and pinpoint those ambiguous areas and points. Use design…text and graphics to meet your lost site visitors where they are…in their emotions. Breadcrumbs can help greatly here, and don’t forget to remind your visitors often of where they are and what they are there to do!
5.) They may not have “bounced” primarily because they decided that you didn’t have what they were looking for. In fact, like those bus passengers, they weren’t in “think mode” at all. They were feeling. They bounced because they were afraid of getting lost.