Monday, July 28, 2008

The Importance Of Micro-Experiences

Do you think about the simple bits that make using your application, website, etc., easier for end users? With the continuing specialization of certain applications, both within the firewall and out, I find that users are frequently interacting with these applications for very small chunks of time. Usually it is in the context of looking up some item of data, and it made me reflect on the ways I've tried to simplify life for end users, especially in light of short transactions. Here are some examples:
  • Putting an address all on one line so that it is easy to copy and paste into Google Maps or another system (e.g. 50 S. Front Street, Columbus, Ohio, United States 43215). When in edit mode, you would probably split the address up into its component fields, but this is a great technique since it allows the user to initiate a copy and paste action with a single selection. This concept applies equally well to other data elements that are made up of multiple parts. I constantly look up addresses so this idea is one I really love, but I don't come across it too often.
  • Type-ahead for frequently used names, words, phrases, etc. If users are constantly typing in the same text over and over again, be nice and give them a type-ahead mechanism. If something prevents you from using this technique (an old version of the software, for example), be creative and try to build some way for them to easily retrieve these common values (profile docs for individual users work nicely).
  • Pad link targets and buttons so that your user doesn't have to use a magnifying glass to find and click on a hotspot. The guys at 37Signals provided a couple of nice examples on their blog a few weeks back.
  • Provide an easy way to link to the current page of information. Sending a link (be it to a web page or an internal application) is something most users do all the time. We've been spoiled with doclinks in the Notes client for so long, but if you're not in the client (or even if you are but your users don't know how to make doclinks), simplifying this with some code that copies the current address to the clipboard with a single click or a similar idea goes a long way.
  • When in doubt, keep it simple! I've run across many applications that should have been great, but were hobbled by poor layout and even worse...too much visual clutter on the screen. This rule applies across the board, but is really important in the context of micro-experiences. If the user is coming in quickly to get some data and get out, the more you can facilitate this experience and make it a fast one, the happier your users will be.
So those are a few of the rules I try to follow...how about you?

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