Designing Online Learning Spaces (2): Losing viewers to the great abyss? Basic UX principles for wayfinding

Picture a website you enjoy visiting. It can be for news, shopping, video viewing, etc. How do you feel as you work your way through content? Do you naturally know where to click, how to navigate, and how to connect with the information you need? Now recall a time you visited a new website and got confused. How did you feel as you tried to find the information you needed only to be bounced from page to page with little rhyme or reason?

Wayfinding in a physical arena is key to helping you locate buildings, rooms, etc. with minimal confusion or stress. The same is true for digital spaces. The wayfinding in a digital arena is all built upon user experience design. The user experience design of a digital space is key to helping you connect with the information you need when you need it. This post is the second in a series of insights into how to better conceptualize the design of online learning spaces by looking to the field of user experience design. This second post in a series of practical insights into how to better conceptualize the design of online learning spaces will provide a high-level overview of five usability principles drawn from the research of Steve Krug. Missed the first post about eye-tracking and reading patterns to optimize online reading? No worries! Click here to view it.

As a reminder, UX design stands for “user experience.” User experience, as the name implies, refers to the experience of users when engaging with a product or service. A product or service that provides results in positive feelings promotes repeat engagement and can lead to brand loyalty. A product or service that results in negative emotions leads to user frustration and results in a negative brand perception.

A key element for positive UX design is understanding basic usability. Usability is a broad and deep field. However, the good news is many basic usability principles are grounded in common sense. If you have experience browsing the web, these principles will most likely resonate with you.

Don’t make users think

“Don’t make users think” is Krug’s first (and perhaps most famous) law of usability. This phrase means that when a user encounters a webpage, they should instantly (or almost instantly) be able to understand what the site is about and how to navigate it. This instantaneous understanding is the key to making a place hospitable and welcoming. Though it is tempting to think that making a site unique and different from others in its genre will make it more memorable and exciting, the opposite often ends up being true. Websites that are unique and novel require much more thought to decipher, thus end up becoming taxing to users.

Design for Scans and Glances

As discussed in the first article of this series, users tend not to read every word on a website. Instead, they first glance at the page to assess the overall layout. Next,  they selectively scan headings, and the first part of paragraphs get a gist of the information. Good UX design takes advantage of this information and designs pages that are understood through a simple scan. Ways to optimize “scannability” include:

  • Creating a clear visual hierarchy
  • Breaking pages into easily defined spaces
  • Eliminating distractions
  • Drawing attention to clickable content

Use less words

Every word you put on a webpage is like a sound. Pages with lots of words are very noisy pages. Trying to hold a conversation at a rock concert is difficult. So too is trying to “hear” the message from a page filled with lots of written content. Using less content helps immediately emphasize important content. Also, it makes pages shorter in length, which means less scrolling on the part of the user.

Think Navigation First

Navigating a website is somewhat akin to navigating a physical space with the one significant difference—users have no orienting spatial clues to guide them. To help a user remain oriented in the site, use a precise navigation bar that is consistent across all pages. Connect each page in a way that logically unfolds. Each page should have a unique name that is prominently displayed. Also, a home button should be present on every page, allowing users a “fresh start” if they get disoriented when moving through the website.

Test usability, don’t guess usability

Always take time to test a website with users. It is easy when you are the creator, to think that the site you made is very logical and easy to navigate. However, you are most likely too invested in your design actually to see it in an unbiased way. To help bring clarity, perform usability testing periodically with people who have different perspectives to see how your ideas are translating. When you receive feedback, assess and update accordingly.

In conclusion, the user experience design of a digital space is key to helping you connect with the information you need, when you need it. Implementing a few key UX principles when designing course content can make all the difference in creating a more effective and human-friendly experience for everyone involved.

Reference

Krug, S. (2014). Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited. A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Pearson Education.

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