Written at 20:25, on Friday 21 March 2008. Tags: c-md .
An average human being is capable of keeping approximately 6 items in his short-term memory. Then why do we still think it’s natural that websites present us dozens, or even hundreds, of links to navigate through them?
According to Jakob Nielsen, navigation on the web is often overdone: there are too many links on a page. His research shows that users ignore navigation area’s and dive straight into the content area. Despite the growing importance of disciplines such as information architecture and usability research, or the use of design patterns and content management systems in the website development process, navigation is still fundamentally based on clicking links in lists. Let’s not forget that the Web as medium is still very young: “I think the Internet is still on Day One… You can’t predict some of the really big changes. Who would have said that the development of the automobile would have led to suburbia?” (Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO). So there is still plenty of opportunity for experiments with new interfaces to make information accessible. That is also the purpose of this thesis. Through a design research, this thesis will focus on exploring different concepts of website navigation.
To escape the confines of current ideas of ‘navigation’, this research will try to come up with different metaphors for navigation by doing user research in the form of a narrative enquiry. An example of an often used metaphor is the word ‘menu’, which relates the choice of a webpage with the choice of a dish in a restaurant. What other metaphors are conceivable, and what interaction concepts can be designed around them? This will be the central theme of the first part of the research.
Then the state of the art of user interfaces and interaction design will be examined to determine what concepts may be usable to create alternative forms of website navigation. For example, the concept of the Zoomable User Interface (ZUI) is based on distance: the further away an item is, the smaller it appears. Full details are visible when something is ‘zoomed in’. This is very effectively used on Google Maps. Another example is the Textual User Interface (TUI), which is language-based and works by giving commands to the computer. Thanks to its speed and extensibility, this is a very powerful interaction mechanism. Although it may seem like nothing new, as command prompts are as old as the ’70’s, these principles are rarely used on websites, with search interfaces as the proverbial exception to the rule.
The result of these and other experiments will be a series of paper prototypes, wireframes, design mockups and proof of concepts. These will be analysed from a qualitative point of view with user research, and documented through thick descriptions. Of course, I will publish my results here in my journal as much as possible.
A write-up of the creation of the thesis image can be found in my portfolio.
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