Customers Don’t Like to Read

We assume, when writing, that most software users and web site visitors don’t want to read. And without being unkind, they don’t like to think. At least, not so they scratch their heads and wonder, “What’s going on here?”

Visitors plunge in

When a prospective customer arrives on your site, they don’t pause to study your site and figure out how it’s organized. They plunge right in, recklessly, hoping to quickly find what they seek. This is the “paradox of the active user.” This is, to quote usability expert Jakob Nielson, “Users … are motivated to get started and to get their immediate task done: they don’t care about the system as such and don’t want to spend time up front on getting established…”

“The ‘paradox of the active user’ is a paradox because users would save time in the long term by taking some initial time to … learn more about it. But that’s not how people behave in the real world, so … we must design for the way users actually behave.”

They are task-focused

Graduated shading is used to visually indicate the degree of localization in this web site content concept map. Each country and language-specific home page thumbnail is hyperlinked to the detailed localization analysis for the country. No Table of Contents needed.

No one reads. Who has the time? People want to—

  • crack open the index
  • look for visual cues
  • glance at the table of contents
  • click on the Find button
  • rely on consistent navigation
  • scan for their keywords
  • expect labels that meaningfully describe content
  • use the Search button
  • flip through it
  • check the status bar
  • browse the site map
  • look over the page headings
  • refer to the URL in the address toolbar
  • review content headings

—and, finding the specific produce, service, or information they need, go on their merry way. This is why design is as important as writing.

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