July 7th, 2006
During the session, I hammered home (beat a dead horse?) about the idea of link-rich home pages, making the recommendation that designers strongly consider populating their home pages with dozens, if not hundreds, of useful links, making the site contents as visible from the home page as possible. I pointed to many of the examples in the recent UIEtips article, Lifestyles of the Link-Rich Home Pages, such as McMaster-Carr and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
During the seminar, several participants asked about graphics on these link-rich pages. “Do you see a role for graphics in this link-rich world?” was a common question.
To answer this question, we have to discuss what we mean by graphics. As we talked about in our report, Designing for the Scent of Information, you can categorize graphics into three types:
- Navigation Graphics: which provide scent to the user in a graphical form.
- Content Graphics: which communicate information directly to the user.
- Decorative Graphics: which designers use to help with the mood, show professionalism, organize the page, help strengthen the brand engagements, and other nefarious purposes.
In a recent investigation we did of various police department sites, we found examples of all of these. For example, on the Atlanta Police Department home page, they have a navigation graphic constituents can use to find out information about the Atlanta Police Zone they are interested in:
Assuming a user knows which zone they want, this graphic is very helpful and gives off good scent. (Of course, if you don’t know the Atlanta area extremely well, these zones lose their scent very quickly. We wonder if this could’ve been improved by using a layer of landmarks, such as the airport, the downtown area, and the Buckhead region to help people figure out which zone they’re part of.)
Over at the New York City Police Department home page, we see some content graphics in the form of open police case images:
Again, one can argue whether these are effective content graphics or not, but someone coming to the page wondering if it’s their best friend who robbed the bank would know instantly. At least, that’s the idea.
So, what is it that we find on the Beverly Hills Police Department home page? (Yup, that Beverly Hills–the 90210 folks!)
Or how about the Dallas Police Force? (To use a city from another TV show.)
From these images, we can see deduce the Dallas Police Force is very proud of their toys, whereas the Beverly Hills folks line up nicely in rows. But do these images help the user in any way? They don’t seem to provide scent, nor do they communicate content beyond “Yes, your tax dollars do pay for stuff.”
How about this image from the California Highway Patrol (ok, another TV reference)?
Looking beyond the 1970’s-style vaguely-creepy-looking-cop-glaring-at-the-pretty-dispatcher imagery, it’s not clear the graphic is necessary to encourage people to come work with the likes of Poncherello and Baker.
Police sites are notorious in their use of graphics on their home page. Take a gander at the entire CHiPs home page:
Whereas we’ve been advocating link-rich pages, they’ve opted for a graphics-rich page. They weren’t the worst we saw. Take a look at the Virginia State Police Department (not related to any TV show I’m aware of):
In general, we believe graphics have a place. When they effectively communicate scent or communicate content, they are valuable to the users experience. There’s no evidence to suggest designers couldn’t create link-rich pages with effective graphics.
But, we still have trouble justifying decorative graphics in many cases. The Now Hiring image from the CHiPs page is more decorative than navigation. A set of effective links, like on the Richmond PD site might be better:
Richmond’s approach gives more scent and options in half the pixels of the CHiPs version. If you’re trying to get as much scent on the home page as possible, looking for those types of solutions are what we recommend.Tweet