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Take a look at this page. On this page there are four links. Can you see them? Chances are the first link you spotted was the read more link at the bottom. And this would be as intended. The link on the bottom is the sign to indicate to you that it's a link. It's separated from the content. The wording explicitly says read more, and it has an arrow on it indicating an action. What about the three other links? If you're used to visiting blogs, you're likely to point to the headline second, and you'd be right.
Convention states that clicking on headline of an article on the web will take you to that article. But unlike the Read more link at the bottom, the headline has no visual indicators telling you that it's a link. And what about the third and fourth links? If you spotted them, I'm impressed. The third link is the author name. The fourth, the publishing date. By convention, the author name leads to an author archive, while the publishing dates points to the posting itself.
But this is not common knowledge. So, in this page there are three links pointing to the same article and one link pointing to an archive. Why is it like that? What we have on this page is a perfect example of two different dichotomies, intuitive versus acquired behavior and focal versus tacit knowledge. And these tie in closely with both logic and user experience. Let me explain. Intuitive behavior is, well, intuitive. You see something and you instinctively know what to do.
In my graphic, there's one piece of intuitive behavior, the Read more button. It says read more, meaning, logically, if you interact with it, you'll be provided with more to read. It has an arrow indicating a chain of causation. You interact with it and it moves or triggers an event. And if you hover over it, it reacts like a physical button in real life telling you it is active and urging you to press it. This user experience is logical and makes sense even to someone who has never used it before.
Acquired behavior is something you've learned through experience. Clicking the headline of an article is an action you've picked up through interacting with other content on the web. Because this is a standard way of linking to the full article and the clickable area on the top of the article is nice and big It often becomes your default method for going to web postings. But the only reason you use the link is because you know it's there. How you found it is a different matter. Clicking on the title of a posting to see the full article is not necessarily intuitive.
And the only way you'd know it was possible is by moving your mouse over it. So while the title being a more convenient link, it is not a logical one. To make it logical, we have to change the design and explicitly add an element explaining that this is a link. In other words, the double linking, headline plus the button at the bottom, is not redundant. It takes into consideration two different users. One with previous experience, one without. Which brings me to the fourth link, the date.
People are often surprised when they learn this is a convention, because they would never even think to click on the date to get to a page or an archive. And it gets even stranger. If you use a service like Google plus, Facebook, or Twitter, and you want to link to a specific posting. What do you do? What if I told you, all these services will take you straight to the posting when you click on the publishing date and time. More than likely, this is new information to you. And if you already knew, you're probably a web designer or developer.
This date time linking is an example of tacit knowledge interfering with user experience design. While it may be logical on a computer level or a historical level to have a publishing date of the content lead to the archive or to the item itself, it is not intuitive on a human level. Because this is acquired behavior the interaction should be clearly indicated through words and design but it's not. Why? Because the knowledge of this function is tacit in the mind of the designer.
The designer believes this behavior is intuitive because of her previous experience with it, while in reality, it's acquired. And because it's not explained, new users are unlikely to ever pick up on it, unless someone tells them or they stumble upon it by accident. This confusion of intuitive versus acquired behavior is a trap I see designers fall into all the time. Hidden menus, off screen gestures, no UI approaches or icon graphics that refer to all behavior are common and create a separation between the user and the technology.
In creating user experiences, it's vital to assume your understanding of the experience is not the norm, in that any expected behavior needs to be either explicit and logical, as in the Read more button, or explained and taught so the user can acquire the behavior. To put it simply, you are not the target user.
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