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"Jared M. Spool" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Wed, 16 Feb 2000 15:14:59 -0500
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On 15 Feb 00, Hal Shubin <[log in to unmask]> mused:

> I did some usability testing recently and found that people liked
> the Yahoo-like hierarchy listing. The more second-level information
> they saw, the easier it was to identify the right link to pick.
> One problem that I've seen in pitching it to clients is that it's
> not pretty enough. Lots of HTML text, no control over fonts, all
> that underlining. Using this kind of hierarchy doesn't always fit in
> with that visual image that the graphic designers are going for.
> Here's one of the areas where UI design and graphic design can
> clash. Some would say that this is the way it's supposed to be
> (focus on the information and let the browser handle presentation),
> but the theory and reality of Web design don't always match up.

This is interesting, because you and I usually come out on different
sides of this argument.

I think that if you believe that UI design (which in this case, I'd
argue is more Information Design -- but that's just semantics) and
graphic design are clashing here, then you're just not demonstrating
your imagination.

I don't think that the reason that users do better with the
Yahoo-style interface has anything to do with the graphic elements of
the page.  The fonts, the leading, the placement of text is actually
fairly irrelevant to their success.

In our testing, the thing that has demonstrated the most usefulness is
the fact that there are multiple words that, in essense, lengthen the
size of the links.  For example, the set of links:

    Business & Economy
    Companies, Finance, Jobs...

Is much more powerful in terms of the "scent" it communicates than

    Business & Economy

But, I guess I don't see how having links that give off more scent in
the fashion prevents graphic design from being applied.  It seems to
me that a creative designer (who's probably well versed in things like
Tufte) could do a fabulous job, while still maintaining the scent on
the page.

Of course, they'd have to know what the important words are for the
users who visit (we call these Trigger words), and how they should be
placed together.  This is not taught to many graphic designers, so
they'd have to pick up these skills somewhere else.

But I don't think there is any clash between disciplines here.  There
is just a clash between people who are skilled at what they are doing
and the majority of us who aren't.

(For those of you who are interested, Scent & Trigger Words are
discussed in detail in the third report of our new series: Designing
information rich web sites.  Link composition is discussed in the
fourth report and grouping of links to increase scent is discussed in
the fifth report.  You can find out more about the reports at


 Jared M. Spool                User Interface Engineering
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 (978) 975-4343                   North Andover, MA 01845
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 Our Newest Reports: Designing Information-Rich Web Sites