What elevators can teach us about Web site design

When I get into an elevator (or lift, as they are called in civilized society), I always know exactly where my “hot” buttons are. The button for my floor at work. The button for my floor in my condo building. The ground floor. The gym. And so on and so on.

However, when someone asks me to push a button I’m not familiar with, I go into a panic. Where’s the button? It’s not where it should be. Where is it? Aaargh!

Now, most buttons, in most lifts, are laid out in a pretty standard way – numerically – so it should be easy for me to find, the button for, say, the 14th floor. Should. Why am I left standing there looking like a caveman with an iPod when my newest acqaintance looks on with unadulterated disdain on her face?

The fact is, our bodies and minds are very good at creating “shortcuts”. Shortcuts are when your brain goes into cruise control and you let instinct and experience take over. You save valuable intellectual bandwidth by letting your fingers dance across the key board. You save yourself the trouble of fully waking up when you get a drink of water because your body, not your mind, can guide you to the fridge.

Intuition is good. Great even. Intuitively, you want your Web site to offer an intuitive navigation system. But what if there was a payoff between intuitive navigation and visitor engagement with your content?

Given what little I know about this, I’d say we have a few options. Guess which one I like the most:

1. Make everything uber-accessible. Bigger text for primary and secondary navigation buttons. Clearer descriptions and more intuitive navigation paths.

2. Change everything on a regular basis. Don’t let people on your site develop that auto-pilot. Make them work for your content and they’ll have that sense of “childlike wonder” everytime they come your site. Use sophisticated, enterprise class web analytics (not the free and ubiquitous Google Analytics) to support your changes.

3. Treat your users like children. Hello flash-based sites with limited navigation paths through the site.

4. Direct people away from your site. Put up RSS feeds to let people pull new content from your site into their feed readers. Not only will they keep updated on the latest news, but by consuming your content outside of the artifical confines of your site, they won’t  develop those short cuts.

What would you do?


5 Responses to What elevators can teach us about Web site design

  1. Hello mate,

    I would say Google Anayltics is robust as any stats package. Didn’t Google Anayltics (then known as Urchin) cost something like $200 a month to use before Google acquired Urchin Software Corp.?

    It’s probably the best I’ve seen so far but I ain’t no SEO guru… Or SEO anything for that matter.

    When you say “change everything on a regular basis” do you mean the navigation? It wouldn’t be wise to do so as it would confuse your regular visitors and also confuse the search engine spiders. (I think!)

    What do you think about Bellamy leaving? Good riddance?

  2. Moksh Juneja says:

    Loved the analogy!! even more loved the learning from the observation!!!


  3. Brilliant analogy, Ed. So — I am not the only person who panics like a deer in the headlights when someone shouts: “HOLD the door!”

    I too question the idea of changing your navigation on a regular basis, but I agree wholeheartedly with your other remarks. I am a big believer in RSS feeds.

  4. Ed Lee says:

    I’m not too sure where the idea of changing the navigation came from…that would be way too tough.

    But changing the placement of the links, and perhaps the physical ordering of the links in the secondary nav, would be much easier to do – especially with today’s CMS systems and the sort of templated structure most Web sites work off of.

    makes sense?

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