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Clean Up on Aisle 7

When iOS 7 was finally released, I was tremendously excited.  Apple was finally rethinking their interface, something I use everyday.  Being that iOS has often been a real leader in usability and interface design, I sure wasn’t alone in being excited.

So, when I loaded it up, and played with it, why did it fall so flat?  Terrible pun aside, I know that a lot of the negative attention to iOS 7 has been the aesthetic choices like the colors or the icons, but those aren’t what really got my enthusiasm down.  

It was that for every usability step forward (Control Center – finally, thank you!), there are big steps backward (scrolling down the page in Safari sometimes triggers Control Center – ugh).  A lot of previously useful features are now hidden with swipes or gestures, like device-wide search.  Options are ambiguous.  Crucially, calls-to-action are hidden, inconsistent, or unclear.  It’s not a catastrophe by any means, but a lot of usability was sacrificed for the visuals.  Most of these steps backward were made to showcase the new art direction, and clean things up.  

It felt “clean” in the same way that the kitchen table looks clean when you dump everything into your junk drawer at home.   Great for dinnertime, but what about when you need the duct tape?  

Same thing goes for your website.  Don’t make your users rummage through the junk drawer to find what they need.   

Clean is nice.  Organized is better.  

Setting up a strong organization system for your website is straightforward:

1) Set up your Information Architecture to group things helpfully.  Don’t hide things.    It’s a good idea to try and keep your main menu as short as possible, and as easy to scan and recognize as you can.  To do this, you’ll have to group things.  Spend some time thinking about this, and it will pay off later.  Take some time to play out a few scenarios on paper first, or try sorting index cards with your menu items!.  

2) Set up a strong site search functionality.    Choose what you want your smart search to focus on (content-wise), and use metadata to help it do its job by making the content’s tags or categories searchable.  Search is not the be-all-and-end-all, but a strong search capability is invaluable.  

3) Relate content to other content based on metadata, like topics or tags.  For bonus points, don’t hide that metadata from your users, make it a finding aid!  Set up a topic filter, so your users can focus in once they’ve found something they like reading about.

4) Make elements that help users to find where they are (like the h1 tags or titles of pieces of content) consistent and clear throughout the site.

5) Don’t hide your calls-to-action!  Make the cost of the interaction (like which fields the user needs to fill out on a form) clear to the user from the beginning.   

Resist the temptation to clean up, and minimize until you know that you’ve got things set up to be organized.  

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