I found a great blog on my web travels last night, Niggle. It's a blog about the niggling details of design that can make or break usability and/or the user experience.
Reading through the posts got me to thinking of the niggles I notice in websites all over the place and after checking out 37signals' 37better project I thought I'd do a very quick re-work of my own (and I mean quick, dirty and not that ingenious). The first site I came that had a niggle that cried out to me to be changed was the VG Cats online comic.
I apologise to the comic's author, Scott Ramsoomair, for singling his site out - it's an excellent site and ridiculously funny comic that I check every week for the latest instalment, which is unfortunately why this niggle gets me so bad.
Get to the niggle already!
It's a small thing, but niggles always are: the next/back and first/newest links at the top and bottom of each week's strip still have the ability to temporarily confuse me when I feel the inclination to look back through the archives. Why? Because the 'back' link (to view the previous strip) is listed before the 'first' link (go to the first ever strip), followed by a general 'archives' link, then 'newest' (the, err, newest strip) and finally 'next', as above.
Why is this a problem? Well, the human brain (or at least this one) when dealing with chronological options likes to see those options in a linear (or chronological) order for easy selection. In other words, the left side would be one end of the spectrum (e.g. first/oldest) and the right side would be the other end (e.g. last/newest), with the links in-between providing a progression between the two extremes. The VG Cats site mixes the ordering up slightly. It's still relatively uniform, but as it's essentially providing chronological options, not having the 'first' link at the start and the 'newest' link at the end causes the confusion, where I (and I presume many people) would naturally glance, see the idea of the links on offer and presume the first link gets back to the start. The pic below shows a quick re-work of the options which I personally feel would make for a more usable menu:
People are essentially lazy and rely on quick parsing of information to attempt mental shortcuts to get where they want. Few people carefully read every option before making a selection and so it's important to make things obvious.
I think VG Cats probably isn't helped by the mixing of terminology either. First/Newest and Back/Next don't sit together particularly obviously. First/Last or Oldest/Newest would be more natural combinations for the extremes and Back/Forward or Previous/Next would perhaps be more natural for the 'baby step' links. I haven't bothered re-doing the text as an image (I am, afterall, lazy and don't feel like finding out what font they used), but hopefully you get the idea.
Am I the only one who thinks like this? Let me know ;)