This is part 3 of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin.
How do we avoid creating situations where users get lost in the interface, or experience “navigational trauma?”
Several times throughout the About Face, the authors quote Antoine de St. Exupery saying, “in anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
To me, this principle seems to be at the core of usability and good design: Give people exactly what they need without all the other “stuff” that distracts, frustrates, or impedes progress and effectiveness.
Again and again, the authors come back to this idea. Chapter 11, for example, is entitled “Eliminating Excise,” and in this chapter, I was struck by the following quote, which describes the problems users can face when navigating between multiple screens, programs, or frames:
If the number of windows is large enough, a user will become sufficiently disoriented that he may experience navigational trauma: He gets lost in the interface. Sovereign posture applications can avoid this problem by placing all main interactions in a single primary view, which may contain multiple independent panes. (Kindle Locations 3020-3021).
This immediately made me think the overwhelming amount of technology we throw at students and expect them to use. We juggle email accounts, instant messaging programs, class website portals, course management systems, blogs, and social networking accounts—all in an effort to make things easier, more accessible, or more interactive for our students. When, in reality, we end up just frustrating them and thwarting the learning process.
And, as a student myself, I can completely empathize with their frustration! I’ve taken classes with a professor who gave out a phone number, a personal and work email address, an instant messaging handle, and a twitter account name. But I was always unsure about which was the best contact method. I was left with the option of guessing which was best and possibly running the risk of guessing incorrectly and having my question unanswered. The alternative was to send messages through multiple mediums and risk annoying the professor—something I didn’t think was particularly wise. As a result, I was reluctant to ever contact this person.
I have also heard of instructors who use a number of different platforms to manage their course. They use a blog to maintain ongoing discussions and responses, they have students submit papers through a shared Dropbox account, they have a class Twitter account set up for random updates or useful course information, they use another website where students can track their grades and progress, and they use email for communication. This requires students to maintain 5 different login names and passwords—for one class.
I think the term “navigational trauma” is more than adequate to describe how students must feel.
This, of course, is why schools adopt Content Management Systems. But those can be frustrating, as well, which is why instructors often abandon them in favor of multiple sites and interfaces.