Web Site Functionality
Functionality seems frequently to bring to mind
interaction between the site and the site visitor.
While this may be a part of the topic, and is
something I'll talk about in a minute, it's not the
start of it. To determine the most important aspect
of a site's functionality requirement, ask the
question "what is this site's purpose?" The purpose
describes the function the site must fulfill. For
example, a site might be to describe a company and
its products. It could be to sell some tickets or
perhaps it's to show off Johnny's pictures. In each
case, the site's purpose describes the function it
must perform. Its quality of functionality is
determined by how well it performs that function.
I labor the point a little because it is all too easy to be distracted by an aspect of "functionality" to the extent where the primary purpose is obscured. In the above examples, for instance, the ticket sales site might involve some validation, some interaction, some storage and recollection of orders, etc. In trying to accomplish all these things it is easy to forget that what you really have to do is sell tickets. Focus on ensuring that numbers are entered where numbers are required, dates are valid and dollar amounts are calculated and forget to mention the name of the performance for which you are selling the tickets and the site's functionality is about zero, no matter how technically wonderful it might be!
The first golden rule of function is "be quick and to the point." Don't subject your visitors to flash and pizzazz on the way to your grommet sales page. Take them there right away and ask them "A bag of a dozen, or a box of one gross?" Fewer clicks equals much better. Also is this category is the reminder to optimize graphics before including them in a page. If your JPG looks more or less the same compressed to 10K bytes as it does compressed only to 15K, use the higher compression (the smaller file) -- smaller files load quicker. Quicker equals much better.
The second golden rule is "think like your visitor, not like yourself." If you went on a trip to Chicago, London and Sydney and now are putting the photos onto a gallery site, don't label them "First", "Second" and "Third" because that's the order in which you visited the cities. You know that, but your visitor will have a much easier time understanding "Chicago", London" and "Sydney"!
The third golden rule is "assist, don't constrain." If they have typed "1.6" in your quantity field, don't say "Invalid Quantity". Say something like "Please enter only whole numbers in Quantity." Remember also, courtesy rocks! My example here is so much better than "Enter only whole numbers in Quantity." As your site visitors, they are guests in your home. Treat them as such! A little humor can sometimes help too. Used sparingly, and always with careful taste, it can help your visitor to relax, feel comfortable and have a better overall experience of your site. After the above error message (the one that includes "Please"!) we could add "By the way, the system prefers larger numbers!" Be careful though, not to trivialize what you are trying to do.
On the technical side, the real secret to interactive functionality, or any type of technical "specialty", is to keep it simple. Simpler equal much better! As you look at adding some new function to your page, ask yourself if it really adds to the site's ability to fulfill its purpose. If it sort of does, sort of doesn't, ask yourself if the site might actually be a little better off without it. That's often the case. We see something new and neat, and want to incorporate it into the site, but on reflection, we see that the site is just fine without it. Remember, simpler equals much better.
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