Sunday, July 17, 2011

Interesting Observations, and Related Resources, from Working on the HCI Website

As I carried out my discovery/research work for my attempt at a re-design of our HCI website, I came across a lot of interesting data, particularly from the site's Google Analytics account, that brought UX concepts back to mind that I was first introduced to when getting into the field. In my experience, in the past year, there seems to have been a dramatic decrease in the mentions of the importance of "copy" and proper "writing for the web." These topics were once extremely prominent across UX publications and online entities. This article, by French UX consultancy Miratech, outlines some reasons, based on comparisons with print reading, that call for curtailed and, most importantly, scannable amounts of copy. The tendency to scan and not gaze as much and decreased information retention mean a lot for text-heavy sites like the current HCI portal. It means that important links, like the PDF versions of all course offerings, found at the very bottom of some inner site pages, are rarely noticed and thus substantially underutilized. In fact, on the page this PDF lives on, Google's in-page click analysis shows an insignificant use (below 1% in page clicks) of the PDF link. In general, throughout the HCI website, less than 4-5% of clicks occur below the fold. Besides for PDF resources like this course handbook, this means that other important pieces of information may be jumped over: contact information, application information, etc.. as all of these academic tidbits live within paragraphs of extensive text. I would say the homepage suffers from the very same problem and that it may correlate with the low depth and length of visits that the site (for 50% + of visits), as a whole, experiences (in absolutes, and not in averages since some students/faculty behaviors are outliers and increase the mean).

So, although it's a relatively old topic in the web-focused domain of the HCI/UX field, it's interesting to once again see a working example of it. This is something I am paying specific attention to during the re-design, which I am mid-way in terms of completing, particularly with certain about pages; the coupling of lengthy paragraphs and poor font choices (size/family) make for pages from which most users don't glean anything useful.

As I was thinking about all of this web copy talk, it brought to mine instances of menus, particularly "specials menus" in restaurants I've visited, where I've felt as equally burdened as when trying to find information on a much too wordy website... a topic which kind of ties in with service design. I'm wondering if anyone has perhaps potentially read or knows of resources related not specifically to web and writing, but to, more generally, services and writing/textual components of the service. I'd love to read more into it.


  1. I didn't really understand your post because it was too wordy. I just scanned it. :) I love this topic, actually. Language is so important, but it's true, people are scanning and clicking and finding and jumping. I recently (as in my post below) redesigned an area of heavy data and I arranged it sort of a "tag cloud" way so that some words were bigger and different colors to grab the scanning reader. I'm not sure how it will go until I test, but perhaps it's time to evolve our typesetting rather than trying to stop the flood of scanning, chatting, IM'ing, abbreviating illiterates that are... the users.

  2. The two most important things for me when working on a redesign is the navigation/organization and the actual content. I haven't found a class yet that discusses the importance of writing for the web and also the placement of important content.

    I have shifted a lot of my focus to information architecture and web copy.


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