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Hal Shubin <[log in to unmask]>
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Hal Shubin <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 22 May 2006 10:46:59 -0400
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Hi, hi, hi.

At 08:25 AM 5/22/2006, Jared M. Spool wrote:

I've lived in greater Boston for 25 years and I can still barely find 
my own house (much less Boylston St) because I have such a bad sense 
of direction. Street signs sure help. On the other hand, my wife grew 
up here and doesn't read signs, because there aren't enough to make 
it worthwhile to depend on them. She has a great sense of direction, 
a great mental model of every place she has ever been.

The problem about naming pages came up because I was unable to 
clearly refer to the four editing pages in this application while I 
was writing the usability report. Names are funny. When I show people 
plants in my garden, they always ask the name of the plant, even if 
they don't know about plants. Why? I dunno, but people really like 
naming things.

That made me think that customers might have a problem, too. I don't 
expect them to study the structure of the application and have a 
clear mental model. Some of them will develop some sort of model of 
the system, and I think having names to put on the pages is important 
(but see caveat below). I think they have to be identifiable. If 
users' internal conversations can start out with, "Let's see. Back to 
the thumbnails page and ...", it'll be easier. Maybe the page is 
labeled "Thumbnails" or maybe this is the only page with thumbnails 
and that's how the person identifies it in her mind. But if there are 
two pages with thumbnails and they have commands in common, it's 
harder to do that.

Street names may be a hack, and page identifiers may be a hack. If 
the world were perfect, I'd be able to find my way around my own town 
without breaking into a sweat about the embarrassment of getting lost 
(again). Software's not perfect, either, though. Even well-designed 
software doesn't work for everyone. A little labeling is a useful thing.

>I'm not convinced, when you have an application with thousands of 
>pages, it's *necessary* to make the structure of those pages 
>visible. The user only visits one page at a time. If the application 
>is well designed, it will always provide clues to the next needed 
>page without the user needing to know the overall structure.

Jared, didn't you folks study link text and page labeling, and find 
that users like to be reassured that the page they got to is the page 
they wanted to get to? One way they can tell is to have a little text 
at the top of the page indicating what the page is about. I think 
that the same information is useful in thinking about the pages later.

Part of the problem is that this application didn't "provide clues to 
the next need page" because the information wasn't clearly organized. 
In a sense this discussion of naming doesn't matter for this product. 
One problem I found in this study was that the editing workflow is 
too complex -- it's a four-page process that should be three, and the 
commands should be more clearly organized. Bad information 
organization. The naming thing may not matter when we simplify the 
pages, but it probably won't hurt, either.

                                         -- hs

>I'm very much enjoying this conversation and you're making excellent points.
>That said, I want to suggest that, if you want to convince me that 
>teaching the user the mental model of the structure of your 
>application is important, you'll need to pick examples that aren't 
>inherently broken. ;) Let me explain:
>Street names are a hack.

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