Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Where Visual Design Meets Usability - An Interview with Luke Wroblewski, Part II

Part II of the LukeW interview...

"As you have written, web pages make more sense to people if they have a strong page hierarchy, or an easily understandable and logical flow. What techniques do you recommend to designers who are interested in strengthening page hierarchy? Are there times when a strong hierarchy is not desirable?

An effective page hierarchy should be tied to prioritized user needs. The first step I always take when developing a page design is listing out what people want to do and see on that page, which depends on its purpose and context, and then prioritizing it. From that prioritized list, I start at the top and give each element on the list less or equal visual weight as the previous element. This helps ensure there is enough contrast between the way elements are presented on the page.

Too often, everything on a Web page looks the same and users don’t know where to start. Conversely, everything looks very different and users end up bouncing between elements that are competing for their attention. An effective hierarchy employs just enough meaningful differentiation to walk users through the unique content and actions on a page in a purposeful order.

The only time I’d advise not having a clearly delineated visual hierarchy is when a site’s primary focus is unstructured exploration. In this case, presenting all the content and actions with relatively equal importance encourages continuous exploration. This works great for sites with a web organization (where everything is connected) vs. a more rigid content hierarchy.

You mentioned sites like Craigslist and MySpace [in Part I] and I think you’ll see a lot less visual hierarchy there because the predominate user action is continuous exploration. Little visual hierarchy however would be a very bad thing for a task-specific site. In that case, using hierarchy to communicate how to accomplish a task clearly is indispensable. The fluid, flattened, exploratory nature of MySpace would quickly become aggravating when you are trying to book a flight."   continued ...   (Via UIE)


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