2009-05-19

Menu Depth As Measure of Depth of Care

Dana Chisnell's post "Where Do Heuristics Come From" (5 May 2009) stemmed from her work at NIST, where she was tasked to develop guidelines for voting system documentation (vote.nist.gov). Her commentary attempts to sort out the various sources for web usability heuristics (she regards these as "accepted guidelines "). She cites these three sources: folk wisdom, specialist experience and research. Tempting as it is to point out that research seeks to encompass both folk wisdom and specialist experience, it's more interesting that Chisnell points to Miller (1956), whose work is highlighted by this modest blog, as representative of the research category.

The usefulness of Miller's "suggestive" observation, goes directly to a set of use cases Chisnell identifies: web site usability for seniors. In addition to her own work at NIST, she lists AARP's "Older, Wiser, Wired" resources and guidelines from the National Institute on Aging. My mother was into her 80's and prided herself on being computer literate -- especially in comparison to her peers. When her macular degeneration began to interfere with her ability to read a computer screen, she relied increasingly upon inference and memory to help anticipate or guess what she couldn't fully read. When other strategies failed, she relied on memory, and menu length (as well as label length) could be the difference between reading a web page and giving up in frustration. This continued to be true even after her computer was decked out with AI Squared's ZoomText. The cognitive cueing and sensible layout for a page could be more important than any single phrase on the site.
* Post originally cited by Thunder Lizard Digest (19 May 2009)

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