UIEtips article: The Wheres and Whens of Users’ Expectations

Jared Spool

June 8th, 2008

When designing online experiences, it’s very tempting to ask the users what they would expect. Where would they expect the search box to be? Where would they expect a login element to appear? Where would they expect to find contact information?

Asking for their expectations makes sense: if we know what they are already preconditioned to look for, and we design to that, then they’ll know where to find things in our designs. It seems very simple.

Unfortunately, we quickly find out that expectations don’t drive how users interact with our designs. They look elsewhere, to the visual clues and a well-designed flow, to ensure they have the delightful experience we’re hoping for.

In this week’s issue of our email newsletter, UIEtips, I look at some of our recent research to see how the users’ expectations played a role in the effectiveness of the design of sign-in functionality. We watched users take advantage of their frequent flyer programs as they traveled and looked to see if the variety of site designs had an impact on their behavior. I think you’ll find it interesting.

Read my article, The Wheres and Whens of Users’ Expectations, here.

How have you integrated the users’ expectations into your design process? Have you ignored them? Or, do you take stock to ensure you’re doing exactly what they expect? Please share your experiences below.

Both visual and interaction design are key skills for designing effective systems. At this year’s User Interface 13 Conference, October 13-16, in Cambridge MA, we’ve asked world-renowned experts, Luke Wroblewski and Kim Goodwin, to each conduct full-day seminars on these topics.

2 Responses to “UIEtips article: The Wheres and Whens of Users’ Expectations”

  1. David O'Brien Says:

    Interesting piece, especially the two boxes pattern. Anecdotally, I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the UK Human Rights Commission’s logo on their site – http://www.equalityhumanrights.com – so strongly resambles a text input box that thy repeatedly click on it to initiate a search, and get confused when they find they are clicking a link to the home page. It does strongly resemble a username/password box couplet too …

  2. Johnathan Says:

    Very interesting article. The section on e-trade showed the direct impact your design (color, distance to similar boxes, etc) can have on guiding the user through your site. It also highlights something that I think has direct impact on your initial interviews with customers when building personas.

    If you were redeveloping the web presence for say an automotive company, would it be worthwhile to observe “prospective car buyers” going through the site from start to finish and tracking where they expect certain things to placed?

    Thanks Jared,


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