my world of work and user experiences

March 31, 2009

Less is more

Filed under: Usability — Tags: , — admin @ 23:17

Recently I have read several news articles about websites that are too large.

Several Dutch IT magazines (e.g. Webwereld) boasted headlines that the Dutch government should stop trying to create large portals, because citizens get lost in them and swamp the government agencies with even more phone calls. The (Dutch)  press release about the research they quote, performed by Willem Pieterson at the Center for e-Government Studies, presents somewhat different conclusions. He studied the service channels that citizens chose; he found that citizens do not make that choice rationally. So government sites and the communication campaigns to promote them need to take the emotions and habits of the citizens into account

Gerry McGovern tells in this New Thinking article that Microsoft weeded a lot of irrelevant content from their site, because it was smothering the quality content that people are actually looking for. “It is estimated that the website has about 10 million pages and that some 3 million of them have never been visited.” So they determined what were the top tasks that the users were trying to perform and made those prominent.

I don’t think that you can blindly equal Large = Bad. However, the larger the site, the larger the strain on the information architecture and the search functionality, and the harder it is for users to find what they need amongst all the content that they don’t need.
The main thing is to know what most users aim to do on the site and make sure that you offer these features and this information prominently in the navigation and in the search result. Content that is only relevant to few users, in few situations can be pushed into the “basement” of the site; allow users with unusual questions to explicitly rummage in that basement.

So less is more. But user-centered design is even more, especially in combination with user-centered content management.

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