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Review – Getting Them What They Want

Nicky Danino

"Getting Them What They Want" is a report that summarises the latest research findings from the User Interface Engineering group, and is described by the authors as containing the "eight best practices to get users to the content they want (and to content they didn’t know they wanted)". Erik Ojakaar and Jared Spool from the User Interface Engineering group have been at it again, using a mixture of great examples and explanations to put into plain words what most of us already knew at the back of our minds (but needed someone to point out to us).

Erik Ojakaar is a consultant with UIE, and has under his belt many years of work with intranets and Websites. Jared Spool is the founder of UIE and regularly conducts usability research, presenting his finding at conferences all over the world. Basically, these two guys have got the right credentials: if anyone knows anything about usability, it’s them!

This report is easy to follow — packed with practical, hands-on advice, it also boasts plenty of examples from live Websites. "Getting Them What They Want" shows you exactly what the best sites do to succeed, and points out common mistakes you should avoid.

Why a Usability Report?

Usability, and in particular, the application of good quality usability, is critical to your online success. However, as those in the know will tell you, more often than not usability is made more complicated than it needs to be. Usability books are usually hefty volumes that threaten to break the back of anyone who dares carry more than a few at a time. The great thing about this report is that it’s succinct and to the point, so you’ll be able to understand the fundamental practices put forward by the authors in minutes — not hours.

What’s In It?

The report is based heavily around real-life examples, and big names such as CNN, Gap and Staples are but a few of the companies that are scrutinised. By examining what works and what doesn’t on each of these Websites, Ojakaar and Spool identify eight best practices that make the most useable (and successful) sites stand out from the rest.

On the surface, the findings might seem obvious. The authors claim that designers of the best sites:

  1. Keep users from utilising the site search
  2. Know how their users think and what content they want
  3. Build home pages that reflect the site’s priorities
  4. Create categories that users can understand and differentiate between
  5. Study their search logs to identify trigger words
  6. Use multilevel categories when necessary
  7. Understand that different users think differently
  8. Measure the success of the sites’ categories

But each of these points is fully explained in considerable depth within the report, backed up by real life examples that clarify the research findings. I was pleased to see evidence of substantial testing, which was represented by the use of tables and graphs to display results. Ojakaar and Spool maintain that they have spent hundreds of hours watching people try to find content on Websites, and this research manifests itself in the data.

Who Should Read It?

The writing style in this report is good. I found it informal, yet not patronising towards the reader, despite the simple ideas and methods that the authors were trying to put across. The testing methods and results mingle with the explanation to spice up what could otherwise have become a rather dry read.

I managed to read the whole report easily in one sitting, although I doubt that I’d do it again! But I’ll definitely keep it lying around for reference, or to look up some statistics that may be useful when I’m thinking about who to design for when I develop a site.

You probably won’t find the report particularly useful if you’re already comfortable discussing usability issues, as everything mentioned in the document is common sense. However, many times we don’t realise what needs to be addressed in our designs until it’s pointed out to us- and that’s where the report excels.

The Verdict

Any individual who has ever built, or is thinking of building a Website will benefit from this report. Though, with a price tag of US$24.99 for just 19 pages, your money might be better spent on a general usability book. If, however, you’re particularly interested in exploring techniques, and want to understand how you can design your Website to make it easier for users to "get to what they want", then this report might be for you.

Find out more here.

Buy the report here.

Rating: 3/5