Let’s go back to Jakob Nielsen’s Useit.com site and ask

What is my style?

Fancy Formatting, Fancy Words = Looks Like a Promotion = Ignored

His headlines almost prove the point (if you click on the headlines, it will take you to his posting on Fancy Formatting). The words are so jarring that we tend to look away, which is quite interesting, since you would think it would be the other way around.

We really do ignore most things on websites–even ones that we use everyday, even one’s where we are supposed to do most of our work.

In his eye-tracking research of the census.gov website, Jakob Nielsen noticed several different search styles.

  • Search dominant users. No nonsense here. The classic search dominant user looks around briefly, just on the off chance that something will strike them, but really, they go straight to search. He says that about 57% of the users in this test were search dominant users. I think people end up with this strategy out of frustration. They do not expect to be able to find things, so they go straight to search.
  • Navigation dominant users. Navigation is like search, except that it centers on finding the right buttons or links to use. Because it is often not a very successful strategy (websites often do not provide good navigational tools), most people do not adopt this strategy.
  • Tool dominant user. Tool dominant users use drop down menus and other “interactive” features of websites. Because many sites do not have interactive features, this is not always a successful strategy. But when there are good interactive systems, people like them since it gives them some control. (Control is always good.)
  • Successful users. Some users were successful users. They users manage to find the information provided on the site from the resource that the web designer intended. It is sometimes accidental. In the census.gov experience, these users were search dominant users who got lucky (which is how most people’s experience with many websites can be–they feel lucky if they find what they want).

[Many people simply do not try to look things up on websites. They use Google instead. How lame is that? What is it that we are doing that people cannot find things on our own websites?]

So, which one are you?

  • Do you recognize your style?
  • What is it that website developers might do to make things easier for you?
  • What are the frustrations you have trying to find things on the web?

It all comes down to “usability”. We don’t use things that are hard to us, unless we have to.