Make No Assumptions With Web Navigation

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, December 07, 2009 at 04:00 AM with 3 comments

This sign came into my line of sight today, and it made me laugh. It also made me think about Web site architecture.

photo of bathroom sign at Millennium Park, Chicago

In this photo, which was taken in Chicago’s Millennium Park, you see a sign reading, “Restrooms Closed. Please use restrooms on east side of Park” and is in front of gates on a stairway by the Pritzker Pavilion. What made me chuckle was the assumptions made by whomever decided what would go on this sign, which include:

  • The person reading it knows where they are
  • The person reading it knows what direction they are facing
  • The person reading it knows how to get to the east side
  • The person reading it knows where on the east side of the park the restrooms are
  • The person reading it knows English, but I’ll give them a pass on this one for now

What is also in the picture is the entrance to the restrooms on the east side of the park, which is to the far right of the red seats. Though they are so close, they are so far, especially when there usually isn’t anyone to direct you to where you are and where to go.

Similar Assumptions Made Online

Unfortunately assumptions of this sort are not exclusive to the offline world. Many times I find myself on a Web site and I have no idea how to get to where I want to go. I get more frustrated as I design and develop Web sites and I feel I should know how to get there.

This frustration is usually a result of the first assumption above, whomever designed the architecture and/or content of the Web site assumes the Web visitor has some knowledge of the entity or person the Web site is for. It can be as simple as the choice of words used in the navigation which may be unique to those “in the know” or it may mimic the offline structure of the entity.

So what can be done to prevent this? First off, knowing who your target audience is for your Web site is important. If you know who will be clicking around, you can design and develop to meet their expectations. Secondly, having an understanding of what your target audience is looking for will help in the presentation of this information. We always want to say what we want, and people are looking for what they are looking for. Finding the overlap in these expectations is where the magic happens, and makes the Web site successful. Finally, continuous review of the Web site’s analytics will tell you how successful you are doing. Many times designers and developers feel they must make something completely unique in their design. Where this surely shows their talent, true talent comes from creative design with high functionality.

If you go in with no assumptions and simply use hard data, you will be more successful in the end. And you also won’t be needlessly hunting around for a toilet in the Windy City.

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