Website Design Part 5 — Helping your users get to where they need to go

Hello out there in web land. Yes, I know it’s been a few weeks since I last posted anything on my blog. To explain, I’ve been out of work now since I was laid off for about a month, give or take. Interesting how one loses track of time when one isn’t working. Important things start to come up like how one’s bills are going to get paid, not being able to send your kids to college, feeding the family, keeping the house, etc. When I was laid off, lots of co-workers said the same thing: ” You’re very talented, not a lot of people can do what you do, and you should be back on your feet rather quickly.” The good news is I’ve had some interesting interviews, and 3 of those so far with a company that’s been a dream of working for since I was 5.  So, as of now I’m hoping I get another call back from them today or tomorrow for the next round of interviews, and I’ll be back on my feet soon.

What I’d like to talk about today is another issue I have with most websites in general — lack of good navigation. Now, to be clear up front, I think no matter how well one designs or architects a site to be easily navigated, there will always be something someone can’t figure out how to get to, being that everyone on the face of the planet functions differently.

everyone on the face of the planet functions differently.

What I’d like to propose is something not quite revolutionary, but something we’ve all used but as far as I’ve seen not in this capacity. We all (or almost all) have used Microsoft Office, and have come across one of the most annoying features that’s designed to help us get our work done. That annoyance was called “Clippy”, and his other friends — the dog, the wizard, the Mac (for us Mac users)…bleh. On the other side of the coin, those who use Macs have had a pretty nice help system built in since around OS 8.5. When you type what you’re looking for, it brings up the most common questions in ranking order. You select what you want, it gives you an answer, and even offers to take you on the Mac to what you’re looking to do. Neat. I don’t think enough Mac users really know that Apple took the time to put that power there, and most Windows users who switched to the Mac even realize it because they’re used to doing things on their own when having used Windows.

I have yet to see a website that offers anything like “Clippy” in the help section, or like Apple’s very neat help system. If I’m wrong, then please point me to those because I can’t wait to try those out. My proposal- take the idea of an intelligent help assistant, what I would call an Intelligent Media Guide, or IMG. “How would it work?” you might ask. Simple. Click on help, the assistant pops up as some form of animated character and asks how it can help you. You tell it in plain English “I’m looking for such and such”. It checks a database of commonly asked questions (and being intelligent, it adds new questions it hasn’t encountered to that database), displays the closest thing to what you might be looking for. You pick it, and then the IMG, being in a dynamic frame that remains onscreen, brings up the page you need. No clicking on button after button, no digging around the site getting frustrated. Yes, big sites have a nice search feature, but you can get dozens of results of what you might be looking for. Not too neat.

Tell me what you think, and comments are always appreciated.  Keep in mind that this idea is now on record as mine (unless this already exists), and basically means it’s copyrighted, etc., etc. etc. If you want to explore this further, please contact me anytime. I’d love to talk.

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