Web Design Goodies Critique #25

By Joe Burns

Do I choose a link from across the top? If yes, then most likely, I'll choose the handbook link. It's next in line.

Now I have a handbook. I read it. I see phone numbers that are only extensions. How can I call those numbers? I can't. I read over the handbook and have a general knowledge of what I think I'm supposed to do, but I have questions. How do I ask them?

Well, there's an email. I guess I could use that. When will I receive an answer? I'd like to call, but we're back to the problem of no phone numbers.

I try the links page. It's just a run of links to medical schools. I try the tests link. I receive links to other areas. The experimental learning link gives me more text. At this point, I don't really feel advised. I feel like I've been given a pamphlet and told to come back after I have the gist.

Here's a different idea. Instead of simply offering the information is a neat format, why not carry the visitor through the information?

Get the advisors together and start talking about what questions you get when a student shows up on the doorstep. I'll bet my hat that there are a couple of questions that you hear time and time again. Wellanswer them. Answer them before the visitor has the opportunity to ask them.

You are your own best source of information for this site. Why not try this format: Start with a welcome page, as you have, but on that page, title the highest section of the page, "The most common questions". These are the questions you hear most often. I'll bet that the student visiting the site has those same questions. Offer the answer before he or she is given the ability to ask.

The student clicks on the question and that takes them to a page with the answer. You most likely know what questions follow the answer. Offer those questions on the page so the user sees the question before he or she can ask it.

Move the user through the information rather than simply offering the information and assuming the user knows what to do with it and how to assimilate it.

Your advisory program has most likely guided thousands of students. You know the drill. I'll bet you could advise in your sleep because you know what questions are coming and when they're coming. Maybe new students have different questions than current students. If so, then allow the visitor to the site to choose whether they are a new or current student. Maybe the current student section could be broken down into sophomore, junior, and senior.

Perform an advising session online. Do it for the user rather than hoping the user will do it for his or herself. They won't. They'll call or email you. The site was just a barrier the user had to jump to get your email address.

The overall point I'm attempting to make here is that design is more than well-presented pages offering good information. That good information must be offered in a format that is usable to the viewer.

Design must also take into account how the user will move through the site. How best can the user be lead so that he or she will understand and gain the most from the information presented? That's the real key.

This Web site offers it all, it just doesn't offer it in a user- friendly format. If Reagan would redesign so that mock advising sessions occurred covering numerous pages, the information would start to come alive. The information would no longer be static. It would become dynamic, being presented as the user calls for it.

You...the one reading this newsletter...is your site set up so that you lead the user? Is the information on your site provided in such a manner that is it obvious where to go and what's there. Can a visitor move through your site gaining information in a correct order as they go?

It's not easy and it doesn't always apply to every site, but the concept of making information dynamic by leading the user should always be in the back of a designer's mind.

The RIT Premedical Studies Advisory Program is poised to be a stunning site. It's all there. It just needs to be placed into a format that anticipates and then answers the common questions a student would have.

What's great about that is that you already know the questions the students will have. Answer them. The goal should be a site that will lessen the foot traffic coming through your door.

Accomplish that and you'll have a site you know is doing the job.


That's that.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

Always Remember: When it comes to designing your Web site, the most important person is not you, but your user.

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