Monitoring the online customer experience, by Mark Hurst.
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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 matters:

    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 rules.

[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 experiences).

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 disagreed...

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Information architect Victor Lombardi writes:

Whaddya trying to do, Mark, get my salary cut in half?!

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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 time.

(I invite Peter to count the pages of our clients' websites...,,, 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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