January 23, 2006

Blink: Judging a site, judging an app

Oh boy–yet another reason to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s ubiquitous Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Canadian researchers report that Web site visitors draw conclusions about the quality of a site in the first twentieth of a second. Among other things, Gladwell posits that more information is not always better, that rapid assessments are sometimes more accurate than the fruits of months of study. Maybe our well-trained consumer subconscious can keep us out of trouble–away from a phishing site, say.
I found myself thinking about my customary reaction to the usability work of Jakob Nielsen–i.e., some amount of distrust & desire to pick it apart. Mr. Nielsen is of course a sharp and insightful guy, so why am I likely to approach articles on less familiar sites like UX Magazine, Airbag Industries, and WeBreakStuff with a more open mind? I think it’s that after all these years, I still can’t see Nielsen’s willfully undesigned UseIt.com, with its Windows 3.1 color scheme & unhelpfully wide paragraphs, without thinking, in that first blink of an eye, “This guy doesn’t care about aesthetics, about style.” And thus, “Not my people.”
There’s an Adobe angle here, I think, insofar as this kind of phenomenon applies to software. Typically, given a choice between putting resources into flashy UI vs. putting them towards a specific solution (a new tool, format supported, etc.), I and many others will favor the latter. In doing so, however, we risk playing all the notes but missing the music. Whether an app keeps pace with contemporary style gives immediate, sometimes unconscious cues about its quality, freshness, and relevance.
In CS2 the palettes have been subtly modernized (okay, very subtly), but that’s the tip of the iceberg. The newly announced Production Studio features a significantly smartened UI (here it is in action in After Effects), and Project Lightroom breaks new ground for Adobe, making use of animation and transparency.
So, suffice it to say that we’re moving in the right direction, prioritizing visual polish alongside refined interaction, and I’m looking forward to working more with the Experience Design (XD) team from the former Macromedia. Now, if we can just work on that new “junkyard wars” bundle packaging of ours… ;-)
[Study links via Style Gala and CF Journal]

Posted by John Nack at 10:10 PM on January 23, 2006

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