Formatting information for humans
Video: Formatting information for humansFormatting information for humans provides you with in-depth training on Web. Taught by Morten Rand-Hendriksen as part of the Foundations of UX: Logic and Content
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Foundations of UX: Logic and Content looks at how designers, developers, and content creators can use the ancient art of logic and reasoning to improve user experiences and facilitate communication. Morten Rand-Hendriksen looks at the principles of logic, how computer logic and human logic differ, and how these differences can be used to improve communication.
The core idea of logic is to create a system in which communication is clear, precise, and unambiguous, which is (or at least should be) the goal of any website or other communication.
- How humans communicate
- Comparing human and computer communication
- Speaking logically
- Using logical arguments
- Understanding the limits of computer logic
- Formatting information for humans
- Communicating with logic
Formatting information for humans
Now that we have a clear understanding of logic and how it powers and impacts how humans and computers handle data, it's time to use what we know to create better user experiences. The first step in creating anything, be it an app, a web design, or writing content is to identify the strengths of the user and use them to our advantage. As we've seen, the major difference between a human and a computer is the human ability to apply scope and perspective, and meaning to content.
The trick is to know how to use this to further our informational goals. Whenever you see an image or read text you automatically interpret it's meaning based on the scope of it's surroundings. Information is never presented in a vacuum. This means, if the scope is defined implicitly, either by the information itself, or in the overall presentation of your information, you can rely on the human to interpret the information based on that scope. If you were writing an article about vikings, you don't have to say that this would be historical information.
References to swords, sailboats, and Norse gods is enough to put the information in the necessary historical perspective. If on the other hand, you are writing about a sports team named the Vikings, you have to explicitly state the scope. Sports team with anachronistic name. But because of the changing landscape of the web, we have to be careful when using the presentational layer to define the scope. Say you were publishing content about tourism in Africa. One logical way of implicitly defining the scope is to use graphics and imagery that clearly set the stage in Africa.
But what happens if someone pulls the text off the page and read it in a text only application like an RSS reader or maybe even using an application that reads it back to them. This new scenario requires that we define the scope explicitly within the information itself. Either through categorization, definitions or through the content. The take away here is for clear communication, you need to define the scope explicitly when necessary. The next step is to eliminate complexity.
This should be obvious, but we humans have a bad tendency to over complicate information. I'm sure you've encountered people who use complicated words or refer to complex ideas, or knowledge, that makes it hard for the audience to understand the message. A communicator may choose to use complicated words or ideas in an attempt to be perceived as professional or trustworthy or to project superiority. But more commonly, this happens because a communicator is unaware of or indifferent to the lack of shared perspective between her and her audience.
So while the communicator thinks the message is being understood, communication is in reality breaking down. Take these two definitions of the online publishing application WordPress. WordPress uses the proactive synergies of crowd sourced code to empower users to leverage the distributive power of the internet to share their ideation with the global village. Or, WordPress is a web publishing application built by the people who use it to make sharing your thoughts with the world through the Web as easy as possible. These two descriptions carry the exact same message.
But which one has the better user experience? Lastly, ambiguity should be avoided at all costs unless the ambiguity itself is important. A great user experience requires that the user understands the information presented and is able to use it effectively. Whether you are writing text or designing an interactive experience, make sure the message is clear, and that there is no room for interpretation or misunderstanding. To show how this works, I have a real example from a real website I worked on.
In the first designs, this was the main search form. The idea was you would go onto the site and you'd either first select a country and then a city. And then the site would automatically navigate to that city, or you could make a search. What we discovered was when people used this form they would select the country then a city and then click the Go button. The problem, of course, is that the Go button is related to the search form not to the drop downs. But it's logical for the user to follow the sequence. You use the drop downs, then you click the Go button, because that's the order it's presented in.
This is an ambiguous user experience. The solution was to simply change the order. We placed the Search box first with its own button. And then we placed the alternative search with the drop downs next. Now the user can clearly see that the search is separated from the drop-downs. And, if they follow the sequence, do a search first and then do something else, they'll always land on the search page or they'll land on the city they select with the drop downs.
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