The Amazon of Usability... A New Model
of Content-Centric Usability?
All that quaint talk about simplicity was
nice while it lasted, but those days are done.
Synopsis: A post to a recent IXDA.org discussion
referenced an Amazon page for an example of a minor usability
technique. Upon visiting the page I was instantly struck by
the fact that I was looking at one of the most intricate---I
avoid using the word 'compex'---software pages I've ever seen.
If it's not just a blip on the radar, there might be big message
here: we've turned a corner on complexity.
A post to a recent IXDA.org discussion referenced the
Amazon page for Alan Cooper's popular usability book.
I was instantly struck
fact that I was looking at one of the most intricate---I avoid
using the word 'compex'---software pages I've ever seen. Here's
Consider its contents:
- ~70 interactions (links of various sorts) above the fold....
that's not counting the whole page, just the first glance!
- 10, yes, 10 "page-downs" and that was at 1152
resolution. At 800x600 you can press the PageDown key 19
times before reaching the bottom of the page. (A
vigorous slap in the face to those who've been waving
about long page all these years?)
- Three rollover popups with 50, 14, and 27 links in them,
respectively... apparently a torture test for those using
trackballs. Oops, make that 4: when I access from home,
the Gold Box also has one.
- An in-page function, Rate-it. This is a series of stars
you can click to rate the page.
- Edgy jargon, SIPs and CAPs. Check their page for explanations.
- Lots of supersmall print at default size.
- 30(?) different font variations in all... I'm too dizzy
with this one.
This all flies in the face of the rules I've been hearing
for years. Some would say the page should have serious usability
problems. On the plus
are top-tier and there's effective preservation of whitespace.
Any way you cut it, this is an immensely intricate page. Now
bear in mind that Jakob ("Mr. Usability") Neilsen
says Amazon simply can afford to break all the rules and
we imitate them at our peril. But still, you've got to wonder
if this level of complexity—I mean intricacy—tells us that
the targeting, that is, where we set the bar for usability,
Now, you might wonder if Amazon can justify this design on
Cooper's page in particular because it's a book for technical
audiences, but I looked at other pages. Consider the Amazon
page for [Warning:
Shameless Self-Promotion Ahead] my 5-star
book on repepepepeptitititive strain. Just as complex,
the only difference being SITs and CAPs.
So what are the possible messages? Some options:
- Users are getting more advanced, and Amazon has
to cater to the most feature hungry. They can't hold
back features because of slower users or they risk losing
- The old rule-of-thumb that pages should be one or two
folds long is a throwback to the days of 28.8 modems.
Long pages are OK.
- The browser wars are over, so profuse functionality
is fashionable now? Or now that it's feasible, its value
- Personas ("Fran, always with chicken grease on the
hands when reading Emeril's recipes, hates
were nice lip service to the notion of getting designers
to empathize with specific user perspectives, but all users
competent, at least
as far as the law of diminishing returns dictates.
- Amazon is nuts. They'll be bankrupt in a year.
- Lots of companies just loose it when they don't have
to genuinely compete anymore. Amazon is not unique
in this regard.
Here's my weighting:
- Single-page ("one long page") design has
always (!) been the right design for a lot of situations.
had to be used very carefully. Since the advent of RealAudio,
which I think introduced the concept of "streaming," I've
been begging for streaming code and every other form of content.
Now that it's here, whether with Ajax, broadband, or any
other technology, scrolling in a single view has a lot of
of which is printing a whole topic in a single action. This
print-in-single-action feature will one day have another
ubiquitous workaround: a sitewide checklist to print multiple
pages but that's a
story from another day.
- Personas and the notion that differences
between users should drive decision making about design will
fade into the background. The "background" includes better
browser support for accessibility and better framework
code that accommodates many different users' needs without
the code anew. In other words usability will be built into
web code in the same way that lots of usability was built
into Windows itself (compared to life before Windows). In
general, people will accept more intricacy, but this doesn't
everywhere are the best solution. Nor does it mean that text
can be fixed at a super-small size, and Amazon does not;
you can scale the font if you need to or just want to.
In school they taught us that essays should always have a