Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

Deliberately Pointing Out Changes To Your Web Site Can Enhance The User Experience

By on July 22, 2009 in web user experience with 0 Comments

With the web, the only constant is change. The pace of improvement and innovation is such that a web site or web application that remains the same for even a couple of years may be considered out-of-date.

If you’re involved with the web you must buy into the “change is good” mantra. Of course this does not mean that all change is good (oh, did I just hear someone mention Facebook’s Beacon fiasco?).  Still, in the scheme of things, if you’re involved with the web, you’re into change.

But it is also important to consider how change can affect users, who may be perplexed by the sudden appearance of something new on your site.

Allow me to use an analogy: Say you own a car that you drive on a regular basis and one day a new knob just pops up on your dashboard. You have no idea what it’s for, and maybe there’s a label on it, but in any case, it’s all new to you. So you think, “Whoa, I never saw that before. How’d it get there and what the heck is it for?” The new knob, however useful it may prove to be, distracts you from the task at hand, which is driving the car. This can lead to an accident. Not a good thing.

Making changes to a web site or to a web-based application is similar though not the same. Becoming distracted by the presence of a new link is presumably not hazardous. Yet it can be disorienting. A new feature that appears out of the blue in a space where users otherwise know the lay of land may cause a person to become confused and/or think they have faulty memory.

So you might want to consider taking a tip from Google email, which alerts users when changes appear.

Goggle lets users know Tasks is a new function

Google lets users know Tasks is a new function

In mid-July of this year the word “New!”  popped up in red next to a link for Tasks on the left-hand side of the client interface. This serves two purposes: First, it reassures any potentially confused user that “Hey, you really haven’t seen this link here before.” Also, calling attention to what’s new transmits a subliminal message that Google is constantly adding functionality to make things better.

All of this directly relates to an improved user experience. Which in simple terms means visitors should not need to deliberately think about what they are doing on a web site because it’s intuitive by design.

As Jared Spool, a well-known user interface engineer notes in his article Designing Embraceable Change, “We must take care to ensure that we’ve considered the process of change as much as we’ve considered the technology changes themselves.” FYI, I recommend reading this article, especially if you are making major changes to a site.

So yes, change is good. And surely not all changes need to be pointed out in red. Still as many a mom might say, it’s a nice gesture.

Remember, anything that throws a user off is a reason for them to leave your site – and perhaps seek out a competitor.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think of this post? Comments welcome.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .

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  1. hoot says:

    My friends who live their lives on facebook agree — any change in format sends ripples of fear and frustration throughout the FB universe.

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