Outside of the occasional personal journal entry or grocery list, most written and visual communication today serves a purpose – to speak to an intended audience. So why is it sometimes so difficult to figure out how to maneuver through a website, for example? The array of snazzy hieroglyphic icons and the high-dollar Flash intro might make great eye-candy but the visitor who doesn’t know whether the pulsing cash register, the blinking shopping cart, or the spinning dollar sign will help him complete his order is as lost as the restaurant patron who doesn’t understand the not-so-universal sex designation pictures on the restroom doors.
In a recent article in User Interface News, writer Nick Usborne, author of the book Net Words: Creating High Impact On-line Copy, gives some suggestions on how to make the on-line message most effective by reaching out to the audience.
Usborne’s steps are simples. “First, tell your visitors what it is that you actually do,” he says, advising that the homepages should make visitors immediately aware of whether they are where they want to be or not. Let them know what they can expect; don’t make them shuffle through a lot of pretty, but sometimes useless nonsense to get to the heart of the matter. In reality, internet users want fast answers.
Second, Usborne recommends writing “in a style that actually connects with your visitors.” Barbie.com, for example, talks to young girls using terms and concepts that mimic their lingo. Lastly, Usborne suggests telling the site’s visitors what to do. Shop for tennis shoes? Click here. Search for recipes? Click here. “Don’t simply give them numerous passive options. Don’t leave them to do all the work,” says Usborne.
–User Interface News, August, 2002
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2002-09-01.