Wednesday, 24 November 2004, 7:00pm - 8:30pm

Dr. Guy Saward, University of Hertfordshire

In the battle to win customers, you’re up against the clock. Search engines can drop people into your site, and graphic designers can provide visual appeal, but neither helps if your visitors can’t find their way around. You have twelve minutes before user frustration turns into rage – the clock is ticking!

The University of Hertfordshire researches how people navigate complex information sources, such as e-commerce websites and corporate intranets. Some of the results are surprising. It’s not the time you’re wasting, but the sense of being lost that causes problems. Knowing the answer is in there is just as important as being able to find it.

Guy will highlight some of the key issues in navigation design, and suggest productive solutions to these problems.

Dr. Guy Saward of the University of Hertfordshire gave a fascinating talk which was lucid, eloquent and enthusiastically delivered.  He introduced us to aspects of website design which most of us have never paused to reflect on.  For instance, should the website be designed primarily for browsing or for searching with a keyword.  Most owners of websites would prefer Browse to be the default mode of use, as in this way the user stumbles across areas of interest other than that which the user initially had in mind.  If a large proportion of users opt for the Search facility, is this because the menu structure is not helpful enough in directing users to the part of the site which they need ?

We were introduced to the new concept of Information Scent.  An analogy was drawn with a mouse searching for berries.  It could not initially see the berries, but as it sniffed around, and increasingly detected the smells normally associated with finding berries, then it felt encouraged to continue searching in that area.  So if you are a website user Information Scent is the feeling of reinforcement you detect as you sense your efforts are getting you nearer and nearer to the information you need, and you are not far away, as you progressively navigate the website.  If this is absent, users find it difficult to find their destination, and research shows that if the information they were seeking has not been found after 12 minutes or so, then frustrated users give up the quest, and will probably explore another website.  In this way improved Information Scent should improve usability.

Guy showed us visual presentations of the progression of screens presented to users during a real website usability trial as they attempted to locate a predetermined item.  We could see the user’s cursor hover over various menu options, then get very near to the desired information, and then sometimes disappointingly move further away again.  This was often because the menu structure did not point the users unambiguously in one direction.  For instance, if there were menu options for Electrical and Home Goods, where should you look for DVD players ?

We were then shown very convincing examples of how Dr. Saward’s research has led to a product, Naviguide, which after the user has entered a search keyword, highlights on the menu structure the areas where the user will find references to the keyword.  When this concept later becomes universally adopted, members of the BCS Hertfordshire Branch will able to say, “We saw it first”.


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Last updated 16th November, 2020 at 4:37pm