Debating The Page Paradigm
Monday, March 8, 2004
by Mark Hurst
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My last column brought on the biggest response in recent memory.
It was a column on the Page Paradigm - a description of how users
move through websites. I said that for years I have observed users
paying all their attention to completing their goal and no attention
(outside of that) to navigation elements, which information
architects fret over endlessly, or promotional items, which some
marketers love to a fault.
(Read the Page Paradigm column.)
Happily, most responses were positive. These came from the growing
community of user advocates, doing good work online, based on
observations of users in a natural, non-directed lab setting.
The few negative responses came from information architects who were
concerned that the Page Paradigm might encourage people to stop
using so-called "breadcrumb links" - or worse, devalue information
architects who get paid to create those links.
My response is simple: if you're creating a website or any other
kind of customer experience in business, there's only one thing that
Did the customer have a good experience?
Anything that helps create a good experience is worthwhile. Anything
else must be discarded. Job titles, methodologies, and breadcrumb
links are good only to the degree that they help create a good
experience for the customer.
The Page Paradigm doesn't say whether breadcrumb links are good or
bad, or how useful IAs are. It's simply an encouragement to focus
your site on the users' goals, using everything only to serve that
experience, instead of building down from pre-conceived notions or
[Personal note: Some people are (apparently) obsessed with little
breadcrumb links: I'll admit that I'm a little obsessed with good
experience. Thus it's the name of this newsletter, it's the name of
the conference (Good Experience Live), and it's the name of the
consulting firm ("Creative Good" refers to creating good
Good experience. I haven't yet found an idea that more effectively
explains technology, transforms business, and frames discussions of
art, culture, travel, architecture, and much else in life.]
And with that, I present you with some of the responses from readers.
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Michael Angeles writes:
What [Mark Hurst] says is that goals are important and
consistency (in how you present navigation, etc.) is not
important... In an industry that spends so much time
deconstructing the widgets that make the output of our work, I
find it refreshing to read this reminder to see the forest for
the trees. I know, for myself, that I spend too much time in
those very details.
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One reader wrote in...
I very much enjoyed your "Page Paradigm" article. It makes a lot
of sense but definitely flies in the face of the formal
Information Architect theory. I actually forwarded the article
to the members of a team I'm working with and got a pretty strong
response from the IA on the project. In a nutshell, she
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Information architect Victor Lombardi writes:
Whaddya trying to do, Mark, get my salary cut in half?!
- - -
Kristin K. wrote in...
I'm reading this just after I finished a usability test.
The page paradigm is so true. In fact, I'm looking at elements I
added to "follow the rules" (consistency, IA, design, etc) and
they are screwing people up. Just some validation for you.
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Gel speaker Christina Wodtke writes...
Navigation is important, but breadcrumbs in their traditional
format rarely are seen or used... C'mon now, breadcrumbs are one
of the oldest web conventions so if people aren't using them now,
what makes you think that that might change suddenly?
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Manu Sharma writes:
Mark, usually mild mannered and polite, on occasions does ruffle
some feathers when speaking about other UX disciplines... last
year Mark wished that usability professionals disappeared.
(referring to this column...)
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Peter Merholz writes:
For those of you managing sites of more than 50 pages, heed
Mark's suggestions at your own risk. It's been a while since I've
worked on a site that had less than 1000 pages, and such sites
require clear, coherent, and consistent navigation systems.
Largely because this notion of "the Goal" doesn't apply -- many
users have many different goals, and those goals will shift over
(I invite Peter to count the pages of our clients' websites...
AARP.com, AMD.com, WashingtonPost.com, Blue Cross Blue Shield,
Travelocity, and the others listed on the Creative Good clients page..)
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Carl Zetie from Forrester writes...
I agree that consistency is overstated. Emerson: "A foolish
consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." I have always
advocated that the consistency that really matters is consistency
with the user's/visitor's expectations.
[And] I would nuance your Page Paradigm slightly. The other thing
that visitors do on a page is Give Up and Go Home...
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...and several readers told me that the Page Paradigm column sparked
internal e-mail discussions at their company.
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