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Clear Entry Points


From http://ingdirect.com

What:

Present only a few entry points into the interfaces; make them task-oriented and descriptive.

Use when:

You're designing a task-based application, or any other application used largely by first-time or infrequent users. It's also helpful for some web sites. But if the application's purpose is clear to basically everyone who starts it, and if most users might be irritated by one more navigation step than is necessary (like applications designed for intermediate-to-expert users), then don't use it.

Why:

Some applications and web sites, when opened, present the user with what looks like a morass of information and structure: lots of tiled panels, unfamiliar terms and phrases, irrelevant ads, or toolbars that just sit there disabled. They don't give the hesitant user any clear guidance on what to do first. "Okay, here I am. Now what?"

For these users' sake, list a few options for getting started. If those options match the user's expectations, he can confidently take one of those options and begin work -- this contributes to Instant Gratification (Chapter 1). If not, at least he knows now what the application actually does because you've defined the important tasks or categories right up front. You've made the application more self-explanatory.

How:

When the site is visited, or the application started, present these entry points as "doors" into the main content of the site or application. From these starting points, guide the user gently and unambiguously into the application until he has enough context to continue by himself.

Collectively, these entry points should cover most reasons why anyone would be there. There might be only one or two entry points, or many; it dependsn on what fits your design. But you should phrase them with language first-time users can understand -- this is not the place for application-specific tool names.

Visually, you should show these entry points with emphasis proportional to their importance. In the example above, for instance, ING Direct clearly wants to point people toward their current special savings account; they put it front-and-center, in bold lettering and colors, surrounded by whitespace. The three other tasks (probably used more frequently by most customers) are rendered in a group, each with equal visual weight. The most commonly used entry point, "View my account," is at the top.

On a page like this, most sites list other navigation links -- About, Contact, Privacy Policy, etc. -- which are much smaller, visible only to those actually looking for them. They're more specialized; they don't lead you directly into the heart of the site, no more than a garage door leads you directly into the living room of a home.

(Splash screens, by the way, are not a manifestation of Clear Entry Points, since they don't present a decision point to the user. They merely pass the captive user along from one screen to another. Other than being a progress indicator while something is loading, or a demonstration of a designer's prowess, they add no value.)

Examples:


From Google

Google is best known for doing one thing amazingly well. Its home page design focuses users' attention on that one thing: you can't miss that search box! The other stuff is ranked into secondary (such as Web or Images) and tertiary tiers, plus utility navigation (such as Advanced Search). Like ING Direct's site, this design's cleanness gives a user confidence in taking one of the few major choices.


A cell phone

Here, a Motorola cell phone gives single-button-click access to six features: four from the central four-way button, and two from the softkeys at the bottom of the screen. The rest of the phone's applications are two clicks away, in a menu. Sensibly, the phone book is easiest to hit -- selectable via a button right under one's left thumb. (This is more about convenience than information overload, I suspect, but it works towards both goals.)