Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Deconstructing The User Experience: A Website Download

A few days back, I found a good example of what NOT to do when providing a download on your website. Unfortunately, this was on an IBM site, but then again, I don't think that will really come as a shock to anyone here. Too much of the IBM web presence seems like it was designed by engineers. Of course, much of their target audience are tech heads, but that's still not an excuse for a poor user experience.

In this particular instance, I was going to get the Lotus Connections Reviewer's Guide (which I'm really glad they made available). Below you can see the actual download page. My annotations are on the screen shot. To be clear, this isn't a criticism of the Reviewer's Guide...just the mechanism used to distribute it (which I'm sure the Connections team has no control over).

Just by looking at it, you may not see all the problems you might actually experience, so if you'd like, head on over to the download page and check it out. Here were my immediate thoughts when I got there.

1. First, I believe most users would figure that a link called "Get the download" would actually do just that. Instead, it's actually an anchor link which jumps down to the true download area. This has a jarring effect that leaves many users confused about what just happened, especially if they were anticipating something entirely different (e.g. the dialog to ask them where to save the file).

2. While the table is potentially useful, I imagine that the general user doesn't really care about the filename at this point and they may or may not really care about the file size. On other IBM pages, this table sometimes has multiple options, giving the user the choice of a PDF, Powerpoint file, Word doc, etc. What really irks me about this setup, however, is the "Download method". Here we see we only have one option: HTTP. You might also have the choice of FTP, but the real question is this: How many users actually know what this means? The term is meaningless to most people and even if they know what it means, there's nothing here that indicates that there is an action to be taken. Having only one option here is advantageous actually. Can you imagine the average user seeing two links, one for HTTP and one for FTP. My guess is that this would generate a call or have a high abandonment rate since users would be unsure of what to do. If you confuse your users or make them think too hard, you've failed the user experience test.

So...let's have a little fun with this shall we? We'll do a redesign, but we'll keep it very simple. Assume that we can't really modify the layout of the page other than the links. If I could make that one simple change, I would probably start with something like this:

A subtle change, but one that improves the user experience quite a bit. First, we give the user a chance to get in and get out by providing a download button as one of the first things they see after the title. If the user chooses to stick around a little more, they can still use this button after they've read the first couple paragraphs on the page. The button is repeated in the "Download" table as well. Notice I eliminated the choice of download method. I really see no use for giving the user an option here. The actual text for the buttons is debatable but what is important is that the text implies an action. There's no ambiguity here. That is, the button and text combined make it obvious that this is the way you get the item in question.

At this point, if I was designing the site, I'd open it up to usability testing. So, let's do that. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. If you want to be a little more ambitious and redesign it even more (don't forget all the politics usually involved in something like that! ;-), then feel free to send me a screenshot or post a link in your comment. Cheers!


tlbriley said...

It can get worse. About an hour ago, I decided to buy some software on the site because I could download it from there, no waiting for the UPS guy.
But the next screen after I submitted my order stated "within the next day or two, you will receive a confirmation email". I tried to download my purchase anyway, only to find that my order confirmation was "in progress".

The next day or two? What is this '95?

Ovidiu said...

The download feature works in this way since a few years.

I remember that the first time when I tried to download something took me a few seconds to understand what do I have to do.

Patrick Kwinten said...

why is the label 'Download This File' and not 'Download this file'? I do not now if it is correct English when you place labels in @propercase, but I see it being written like that in a lot of places...

Nathan T. Freeman said...

Y'know, it's a PDF. Why even treat it like a download file? Just open the damn thing. Either my browser will render it (and I can then click on Save) or I don't have the plug in installed, and it'll asked me what to do with it.

It's not like this is an executable.

That being said, I know their rationale here. It's that ALL their downloads give options for HTTP vs. IBM's Download Director tool. Not important when you get an 800K Reviewer's Guide -- but critical when you're downloading 6GB worth of Websphere Portal install files.

tlbriley said...

@1 - I got the confirmation email just now, 12 hours later. Unreal.