It’s such an obvious idea. And yet, over and over again in the internet, I find web sites that surprise me.
Surprise isn’t a normal design concept. On the other hand, it’s not a new concept either. Many years ago, in a book on designing for the man-machine interface, the author (likely it was Donald Norman, but I no longer remember) suggested that we try to minimize “surprise”, that is, the feeling you get when you click on a control or a button or a link and your response is “huh? How did I get here?”
And yet, many web designers don’t get it. When you click on a link in a website, you want some re-assurance when you get there that you landed in the right place. The internet is a strange place full of twisty little passages, and the person on the other end of the screen wants some reassurance that they’re in the right place.
What would that reassurance look like? If you clicked on a link that said Red Gummy Bears, you’d expect to go to a page about Red Gummy Bears. If you went to a page that was all about Gummy Bears and you had to look for the red ones, you’d probably be OK with that. You’d be rather more surprised (and more unhappy) if you went to a page about all sorts of candy and you had to go hunting for the Gummy Bears. And suppose, when you found them, there were no red ones?
Or suppose the link said buy Red Gummy Bears and you were instead sent to a page on how to make them yourself. You’d be surprised. More subtly, if a page was all about buying, and you were sent to a make-it-yourself page, you might be surprised.
It’s all about managing expectations. The expectations the user has when he clicks the link are all based on the text in the link itself and the immediately surrounding context. You should meet that expectation, for most visitors, most of the time.
Let me tell you about the example that triggered this article. I went to a newspaper web site and read an article about a firefighter rescuing someone from a burning car. I’d had that experience before (the burning car – I didn’t have to rescue anyone, thank goodness) so it interested me. After reading the article, there was a picture in the lower right of two people dancing. Oh, I thought. Dancing. I’m a dancer. I wonder what that’s about. So I clicked on it.
I was taken to a gallery of pictures. Nice. Larger than the thumbnail I saw before, but still somewhat shrunken. Presumably one could look at them even bigger if one was interested. But where’s the picture I came for? It wasn’t there! Surprise! I thought it was a news story about dancing and instead it was a gallery for other photos the newspaper photographer had taken over the last few years. All fair and good, but why wasn’t the image I saw when clicking one of the ones in the gallery?
People need to think their web sites through, put themselves in the shoes of the visitor, and see how they look then.