Quick-UX provides for the rapid, simple and quantifiable assessment of a product’s User Experience (UX). In answering the question of Desirability, "Should I use it?" the sub-category of Layout is one of frequent discussion, especially in the latest wave of online products and how they handle content presentation and interaction.
The relationships between and among various page elements, how they play off of one another, constructively guiding a process, or organizationally segmenting a concept, can influence how accepted, by the user, the product is, and how Desirable, how much they (the users) will actually want to use it.
Today, we will look at an example of an Internet product with Poor Sequential Flow, representing a Layout value of -0.15.
Order & Sequence
Sometimes order matters — completing one step/stage, or a series of steps/stages, before doing something else; that something else usually being the primary function of the web product. When there is a series of steps, a sequence of actions, the Visual Flow, both within and between product views / pages, should be a positive influence (or, at worst, a neutral one). For example, a new user setting up an account for the first time, or the process of preparing and publishing a new blog post with all the bells and whistles.
Online products use many visual cues to guide users around and between views in simple and calculated fashion through the use of such interface elements as numbering, arrows, and animated interface transitions.
To guide their new users from stage to stage within their new user process, Spurl (an online bookmarking service) uses numbering to indicate both how much further the user must travel, and where to go next.
FeedPerfect takes the extremely complex process of managing a store’s product data feed and presents a very intuitive and guided process through the use of wizards, colors, contrast, and arrows throughout the many stages of setup and maintenance.
Both numbering and arrows are used by Plurk (a twitter-like web product) to guide their new user through account creation to setup through acclimation.
Example: Poor Sequential Flow (value = -0.15)
For this example we will look at the new user setup flow for the web product, Stardoll, a process that must be completed to effectively take advantage of the core offerings of Stardoll.
From the homepage, it does not take too long to discover how to begin the process of creating a new account.
The initial step of setting up and configuring this new account is straightforward.
After the first setup step, the Visual Flow begins to work against the user, and instead of guiding the user from one stage to the next until they achieve 100% set up, all aspects of the Visual Flow, both inter- and intra-view, appear to work towards distracting, confusing, and derailing the direct path to setup and completion.
At this point the user sees their initial Stardoll with many compelling options all around; from visiting the Suite…
…to going to the Album.
Many users are likely to be compelled down these paths before even dressing their character.
While it is clear that the character is not 100% set up, it is simultaneously, equally unclear as to what is next required of the user, including whether or not either working on the album or suite will contribute to an increase in the percent completion of the initial character setup process.
The Visual Flow draws the user’s attention to the ‘My Page’ menu choices and ‘My Account’ options along the left side of the page, but there are no cues guiding the Visual Flow of the product and, in turn, the user to the completion of the new user character setup.
Assuming the aforementioned distractions don’t catch most users, and the average user continues with the process of customizing the character’s body type, there are a multitude of additional choices and visual distractions present that can easily divert the user off the target path towards completion. One such option is ‘Star Sparkles,’ which appears within the interface as just one of the many ways to customize the body.
Upon selecting this option, the user is whisked off to a very different section, with neither an indication as to what to do from here nor where to go from here. It remains clear that the user hasn’t completed the setup process, from the ever present status bar, but no aspects of the Visual Flow coaxing the user in one direction versus another — especially important to a new user of a product. Here, like other pages, the same elements catch the eye, none of which assist in determining the next step or ideal sequence of events.
The fortunate user completes the setup of their body type, moving them 20% closer to completing the process, by clicking on the Save option. Completely counter to the minimal Visual Flow present within the product views, the user is then brought to the Suite view, displayed to the left of the MeDoll Editor within the user interface, opposite of this page’s, as well as the typical English web product’s, left to right Visual Flow.
Right away, the My Suite view directs the user to click on the Shop button, zipping the user to the Star Plaza shopping mall.
After purchasing a few items at the mall the user is primarily guided by the Visual Flow to do more shopping. The user, not wishing to be trapped in this perpetual state, is very likely to choose a secondary path, such as returning to the suite…
At this point, as disorientation continues to grow as to what must be done next, a user may think that clicking on the prominently positioned ‘Start’ option would set them on the right path — but, that would be the last thing the new user would need to resume the process of continuing to get set up, nor will clicking this option place the user on the correct set up path.
The desired sequence for completing the setup of the new account is clearly …
From user name and bio
To Star Plaza
To Suite (or styling studio or more shopping)
Without belaboring every detail of the convoluted Visual Flow and process in the completion of the setup of an individual’s character, the user is left feeling confused and frustrated from a site naked, devoid of key visual elements, simple visual cues (arrows, numbering, etc.), that could go very far in expediting and making this process, and product, much more Desirable.
Clearly, there is a setup process with a desired sequence of steps that Stardoll wants you to go through upon creating a new account, but finding and following that path is tricky and littered with many diversions, earning Stardoll the recognition of being a good example of a web product with Poor Sequential Flow.
Over the next several weeks I will be providing real-world examples of Layout values…
Clear Visual Hierarchy (value +0.4)
Fair Visual Hierarchy (value +0.2)
Poor Visual Hierarchy (value +0)
Non-negative Visual Flow (value +0.3)
Negative Visual Flow (value +0)
Poor Sequential Flow (value -0.15)
Clean Grouping (value +0.3)
Inconsistent Grouping (value +0.15)
Poor Grouping (value +0)
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