The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Where am I?

– September 7th, 2004 –

Had an interesting discussion today at work, mostly based on branding, but it made me think about some interesting things about user orientation. How many times have you asked yourself “Does this navigation work?”, or how many times has a project manager/client/boss asked “how does the user know where they are?”. My guess is quite a few.

A lot of these question focus totally on UI and design and not on what the user wants. Really when these people are asking these questions they really mean “i don’t understand this design” or “I don’t know where I am”. They are thinking of the user, but they’re thinking of them as being like them.

Here’s where I go out on a limb. I’m suggesting users don’t actually care where they are, they care what they are doing. This might seem obvious to some, and to me, but then I really started thinking about it.

If a person is reading about, say family history, on the ITV website. They then follow a link to another website about family history, do they know they are in another website? Probably. Do they care about brand affinity when they are in a different website? Are they aware of a different brand? probably not. Because they are reading about history.

Location isn’t an issue. The task is.

It’s similar in a car park. When you drive into a car park, you are focussed on finding a space nearest to your destination, this is your goal. Do you care about the design of the car park? No. You only care about it when it goes wrong and you’re directed up the wrong way or you can’t find the exit. It’s exactly the same with websites.

Brand and navigation should be designed to be invisible. What I mean by that is they shouldn’t get in the way of the users tasks, they should support them and help them when they feel they need it.

I know i’m rambling but I wanted to get this down on paper so to speak so I don’t forget it. Feel free to argue…

Filed in: design, information-architecture.

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