Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Say What You Mean - Proper Labeling to Avoid Confusion in User Interfaces

The lack of posts on this blog have been due to some recent projects taking up most of my time. Because of this, my blogging has suffered. Perhaps I need to heed the advice of this blog post, set up my own blogging regimen and work it into my schedule.

Until I get a regimen developed, my blogging will be more spontaneous. When an opportunity where people can learn about good usability and design techniques presents itself and I can quickly write about it, I should take it!

A current project where I deliver training on a content management application to groups of new end-users presented such and opportunity.

I didn't design the interface of the application - I just train on it. It seems when the application was designed, the developers didn't fully understand the end-user and how they understand the content they manage. The application I teach allows end-users to set up metadata for their document and then upload their document (file or files) to the system. To do this, the button that activates this function is labeled "Add Content".

Sounds easy enough.

If an end-user wishes to upload a new version of the document, the button to activate this feature is "Add Rendition". This has been a source of confusion for many end-users. During the training sessions I deliver, I usually find myself spending more time explaining what the developers meant by the word "rendition" rather than demonstrating the actual functionality.

Note: the functionality of adding content and adding a new version of previously uploaded content is the same.

The reason for the confusion is the naming conventions end-users reference (in their minds) when they wish to work with content. Adding content is easy to understand. They upload a file or files to the system if it has not been added before. Adding a rendition is not so easy to understand. I'm not sure why this is confusion and I need to investigate it further. Rendition must have a completely different meaning to the end-users than the word version. Given the opportunity I will mention to the developers that the labeling of these functions is in need of review. We might have a simple fix on our hands, such as renaming or relabeling a button, that will reduce a great number of support calls and e-mails.

Through my training I have been able to uncover a usability stumbling block and it all stems from improper labeling and lack of understanding the end-users. The lesson learned is that developers need to understand how their end-users think, especially what they call things. Say what you mean, be literal and match what the end-users think.

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