I understand about indecision
But I don’t care if I get behind
People living in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind
– “Peace of Mind”, Boston
Avoid Indecision, Grant Peace of Mind
If you are a software designer, your goal should be to have every page have one purpose. This way you minimize user indecision, you find that the application is easier to explain, and by going through the excercise of this constraint you gain more confidence that your design achieves the primary purpose of the app.
Yet in constraining user options and tasks available on any given screen, it is easy to get concerned about falling behind the competition. You think someone is going to look at a competitor’s screenshot and say “Wow – look at everything you can do from here. This is power! I want that power!”
Yet the problem with falling into that trap is that users usually find out what they really want is peace of mind. They want to know that they are doing the “right thing” and that the application is doing what they expect. There are a couple great ways to grant the peace of mind to software users. (With apologies to Boston for twisting their words to fit this scenario).
Where am I? – Street Signs and Breadcrumbs
Though Steve Krug points out that his book “Don’t Make Me Think, a Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, ” does not discuss web applications, most of his approach is relevant to web apps.
One important feature to usability is what Krug calls “Street signs and breadcrumbs”. These features give browsers, and web-app users, something to hold onto – something to not feel lost in their virtual visit. There are several ways to implement street signs and breadcrumbs such as ensuring that in a tab-based navigation the “current tab” is highlighted.
What am I Doing Here?
Yet with web applications we take that a step further and make sure users of Synap Software applications know not only where they are but also why they are here. Both a ‘you are here’ and ‘you are doing x’ signs are needed. For example, with the lead management software, LeadsOnRails, most screens reinforce to the user their reason for being on that screen. When they click “New Track”, the new track page appears and the blue-bar heading changes to “Create New Track”.
Some designers might say that this is wasted space – that users know why they went to a screen and it only causes more reading to have to see “Create New Track”. On the contrary, such notices act as reinforcement to the user that they are, in fact, using the application the “right way”. It helps users feel comfortable and confident in the application.
Other applications have used the area of a screen typically used for notifications such as “Record Updated”. Wherever it is, web applications should have a persistent section of the screen that continuosly reinforces the purpose of the screen. Don’t just remind users where they are. Remind them of the single activity they are here to perform.
One Screen, One Purpose
When you explicitly label screens, you find that you need to narrow the focus of some screens. And this is a good thing. Designing an application so that each screen has a reason – and one reason – to exist really helps you focus on the core purpose and activities of your application.
Grant Peace of Mind
So, if you are a software designer, give it a try. Don’t overwhelm users with options in an attempt to show off the application’s powerful features. Don’t make them decide – that only causes indecision. Don’t worry about getting behind. Don’t worry about your competition. Customers that need complex software requiring extensive training and support will stick with your competitors and are not the ones you – as a small software company – want anyway.
The customers you want are those that try your competitors and find that they simply do not enjoy using their software, or that it is is too complex, or that too much time is spent trying to explain to their teams what to do next. These are the customers that will come to you – and stay with you – when they see the continuous affirmations they receive from your app.