Monday, 10 September 2012

How little users read - lessons from familiar tube signs

I've noticed a few blog posts doing the rounds in the past week highlighting some fantastic guerilla art. Tweaking London Tube signs with hilarious consequences. What struck me is the number of people who just won't be noticing them.

As I was reading these posts, it made me think about the kinds of things I was saying in a presentation on forms usability a week or two back. I was drawing on the work that Caroline Jarrett did with the Open University and what she wrote about in her 'Forms That Work' book.

We see something that looks familiar and gloss over the rest, presuming that we know what it's going to say.

So when writing instructions, cut to the chase - keep to the bare minimum and put key words at the start of each point. And don't challenge the user by presenting something in a flow that is different to what would normally be expected.

Spoof London Underground train sign
Familiar signage, but how many read the words?

Spoof underground notices #1 on
Spoof underground notices #2 on Joe Bloggs blog

Eyetracking heatmap of open university prospectus request form
Caroline Jarrett's eyetracking research on users of an
Open University  prospectus request form
Notice how the scanning eye ignored the field labels relating to address that appeared after the name field towards the top because they were anticipated to be familiar. But users didn't ignore every label - as the questions got more complex towards the bottom significantly more attention was given to the labels.

The eyetracking image is taken from a presentation by Caroline from 2009 on label placement.

Label placement in forms and other time consuming controversies - presentation by Caroline Jarrett on Slideshare

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