Unfortunately, I cannot skip the opportunity to quote Shakespeare for this entry.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
Of course it would! But it probably wouldn’t sell very well on your Web site.
You can sell roses on your Web site, so long as folks know what a rose is. It’s all about setting proper user expectations. Seems simple enough – just call it a rose and you’re set.
But suppose they’ve never heard of what you’re selling. Suppose it is something that never existed before. You’ll have to spend some time explaining the item well enough that the user not only knows what it is, but also what it isn’t. It is important to get the user to understand all of the benefits and uses an item will have, but not overstep the mark and have them think it does more than it actually does. As an example, if you were going to explain a rose and how wonderful it smells you might need to ensure the user knows that it has an expiration on it. A 3 week old rose, by every name, no longer smells sweet!
So what if you are not trying to sell an item, but rather a process? What if you are in charge of the information design for a Web site and it is your job to get a user to understand what happens next? What if you are trying to sell the user on clicking a button? It’s all about setting the user's expectations which, turns out, is almost no different from selling anything else.
The first rule is to try to tap into common terminology so that you don’t have to explain too much. A very common example is the “Add to Cart” button. Surely the very first Web site that used this phrase had a LOT of explaining to do. Who back then would have been thinking of a grocery store shopping cart on the Internet? But now that it is so common, most users know exactly what to expect when they click such a button. Tap into the user expectations that this phrase evokes by simply using it if it applies.
But not every site does common things and perhaps your site does something unique. What if you do need to give the user a button that is unlike any other Web site? This requires more effort and diligence.
Of course, you’ll want to explain it. You can put some text next to the button saying exactly what happens (and perhaps what won’t). But know that the average user will not read it. So now what do you do?
1 - Give it a name. Try your best to be descriptive without being wordy. Hope that it will stand on its own and users will understand what it does – or at least be curious enough to try it.
2 - Keep it consistent. No matter how much you want to try using different terms in different places on your site – fight the urge. If you keep changing the name, no user will ever know what is happening. If you discover it needs to change, then change it everywhere, all at once. And if that is going to take some time, then let it take time.
3 - Test it. You’ll be amazed at how an average user interprets the text on a button – no matter how clear you think it is. Put it in front of someone (anyone you can find who’s game) and ask them to tell you what they think will happen when they click it. If it turns out you set the wrong expectations (and chances are you have), then ask them, “What would you think it does if it said ____ instead?” Use this to find a better term and then make a change – but make it pervasively.
Setting the right expectation during a process is critical. And, in my experience, no one gets it right the first time.
So what’s in a name? Sometimes everything.