Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sorted link-lists using “ambient signifiers”

More on ambient signifiers ...

"Regardless of whether you use BBC News, CNN, , Yahoo News, or some other page as your primary news portal, you’re constantly faced with the same type of solution. These pages contain lists of links, sorted by time, relevance, popularity, or some other criteria. And this is a good thing, because it makes information relatively easy to find.

That said, even the most basic and standardized designs can be improved. So recently, when I needed to add such a list of links to a home page for a new application, I decided to take a fresh look at the standards yet again.

I started with the usual suspect. I created a simple list of links.

Simple List - Usability, User Interface Design

For this design to really be complete, it needed to communicate to users that the order of the links was determined by the order in which the articles were posted. To do this, I could have included a bit of instructive text that said something like, “Sorted from newest to oldest”. Or I could simply have numbered them from one to five and called it a day. I could also have stuck a small “New!” icon next to the topmost link to imply the order. But having recently read the Boxes and Arrows article, “The design behind the design”, by Ross Howard, I felt inspired to try something a little different.

See, it’s always bothered me that the web has no sense of age. An article I wrote two years ago, for example, can very easily come up as a top search result today. Hence, I get email occasionally from people who have questions about something I haven’t thought about in two years. Their question is fresh. My answer, however, might be a little rusty. But if the web showed signs of age, the user reading the two-year-old article would clearly see that the article was old, and might therefore seek more updated information elsewhere, or at the very least, adjust his question while writing to me. (There are many other reasons that indicating age could be helpful to web users, but I’ll save that for a different post.)

So to communicate the meaning of the sort order in this case, I decided to try to communicate the age of each link. I started by changing the font size for each link based on its popularity. The link for the most recent article used the largest font, and the font size decreased with each link as the articles aged.


This alone changed things quite a bit. The larger font not only stood out more in terms of size, but also in richness of color. The larger font appeared darker and heavier, which made it stand out even more. Hmm.

This reminded me of something I saw in Google Reader. Jeffrey Veen recently wrote about some design work he’s done for Reader, and upon checking it out, I noticed a tag cloud unlike the others I’ve seen around town. This one used color changes as well as font size changes. It looked like this."    (Continued via rhjr)    [Usability Resources]

Ambient Signifier - Usability, User Interface Design

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