June 15, 2009

Webpage Link Usability

A link points to a different page. That's a common perception. But wait, does this link point to a page of the same site, or an external site? Is the page open in the same window/tab, or in a new window/tab? Will the link change my current course of action? In addition, as AJAX technology has been adopted, many links actually bring up contents in a pop-up panel. We can see links do show different behaviors and users expect to know a bit of them before clicking on them.
Many of the links designed do not imply such information, especially those contextual links which are embedded in the content. A more usable design is to provide such hint to users, through the use of icons, text styles, pop-up tips, or even cursor styles. The design needs to consider providing these visual hints:
The target of links:
  • within the same window but a different section (anchors), or
  • in a pop-up panel/window, or
  • open in a new window/tab
The source of content:
  • linking to contents in the same site/application, or
  • linking to contents in external sites, or
The type of content/link:
  • reference content: provides relevant and brief content but does not change the current course of navigation.
  • related content, which is part of the current course of navigation.
  • triggering an action (actually a button, in some sense) such as hide/show, animation, etc.

1 comment:

Michael Morgan said...

I have a usability background, and this is something I have never put a lot of thought into. I predict browsers in the future will have built in functionality where as you mouseover a link, there will be a toolbar status message that gives you some info about the link.

A big issue in usability is always what users expect will happen when an action is taken, and current web links violate this usability rule.