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?