Usability Week Amsterdam

After an enlightening five days training with Nielsen Norman Group, it is time to relax and digest all that I have learned.

I found the courses were all strong on they why's – neither one that I took, from 'Analytics and User Experience' through to 'The Human Mind and Usability' skipped this important factor.

The five courses I chose were broad-ranging, with a couple of them what I would consider areas I need to work on 'Analytics and User Experience' , and 'Information Architecture: Navigation', a couple that related to my interest in why we do what we do, 'The Human Mind and Usability', and 'User Interface Principles Every Designer Must Know', and one to reinforce that I do know what I'm talking about 'Top Web UX Design Guidelines'!

NN/g USB drives and name badge on a table.

USB sticks and badge from the event

I won't break down each course individually, but it was as broad as I had hoped, going from Gestalt psychology, Hick's law, Asch's Conformity Experiments, through to Digital Marketing Measurement Models, eye-tracking studies, A/B testing, and so much more.

Some courses had a lot of participation, with fun exercises, and some were more lecture based with lots of video material, including this funny example about change blindness.

As my personality dictates, I won't focus on the many positive reinforcing things that happened this week, or my ever-growing belief that I do actually know what I'm talking about! I will mention one example of where things didn't quite go as well as expected, and what I learned from that.

A lesson from the IA course

Perhaps one thing I really need to work on is the over-reliance of looking at favoured examples, as I discovered in the 'Information Architecture' class, it is good to follow patterns, but if the pattern doesn't match the problem, then it needs further exploration.

As a group, we had the task to look at the Stanford Law School website and to see how we could improve this fairly complex five-tier navigation.

Stanford Law School website.

Stanford Law School website

Our first hypothesis was to switch School, Program, and Experience to the top level, and then discuss the secondary navigation. We spoke about mega menus, as being one solution, we spoke about left-hand navigation as being another, and we spoke about a secondary horizontal bar.

In the end, we felt there were issues with all of them:

  • Mega menus – had the least issues with the group, although my ingrained concern about hover effects were my main worries here.
  • Left-hand navigation – with a maximum of five tiers of navigation, we were worried about how to tackle tiers four and five. Breadcrumbs were fine, but the left-hand menu would need to either change on each page, we'd have to go with inline links, or we'd have to have options fold out down the left-hand side. Neither were popular.
  • Secondary horizontal bar – as the BBC have implemented. We discounted this because it isn't extensible, as Amazon found in the early 2000s.
Amazon Tabs

Poking fun at Amazon's horizontal tabs

After much debate, we decided to look at how other sites had solved their navigational woes for deep hierarchy, and as people who will know me will know, one of my 'go to' sites when looking at the organisation is

We followed this pattern, as you will see below, introducing breadcrumbs, making search more prominent, and having related content/contact information on the right-hand page of the final tier.

Stanford Law website sketched solution

A sketched solution

Despite recognising the fact that a deeper hierarchy would make search more necessary, we felt that this was not too much of a problem, as long as we had a good search, and we rewrote some of the headings to make them more self-explanatory…

Peer critique didn't go down too well though!

I think the major concern of the group was that the primary goal of the user is to get to a list of 'Joint Degrees' quickly and easily and find their tuition fees. By introducing extra paths to go down, you could send the user down the wrong pathway - and even with clear signposting, this is something that of course is a risk.

Personally, I still think it could work (with refinement, and lots of content editing), but it was still a very good reminder that sketching, presenting, and refining are things you must do when working on a web project, and to reiterate, it's good to have favourite sites, but they will not always be the best to draw inspiration from.

More articles to read

Will three lines change the way we navigate websites?

Where did we go wrong with iconography?

Making improvements to online forms.

© 2018 Dean Birkett

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