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Explicit Design Volley #1: Explicit Labels

The first thing I’ve ever written to be sold directly to people (as opposed to writing for a magazine or website) is now available:

How Labels Affect Usability and Branding

This is my first Adaptive Path report. It’s a “Best Practices Brief” on the importance of clear labeling and terminology in site design. (Though, of course, it can be expanded to pretty much any design realm.)

Here’s my little illustration which introduces the report:


It was in the process of writing this report that I started to become obsessed with this notion of managing expectations. Words on websites are *all about* appropriately setting expectations, since they are pretty much all that a user has to go on to know what to click to find stuff that will satisfy their needs.

The thing is, as any one who has tried to write thoughtfully and carefully knows, words are hard. They’re often ambiguous. Or dull. Or they make sense on their own, but not when grouped with other ones. This report addresses the common nomenclature pitfalls we’ve seen again and again at Adaptive Path (typically in our client work, but also just being active Web users).

This report is likely not of direct interest to readers of peterme — statements like “Make your labels explicit” and “Clever labels can obscure destinations” are just preaching to the choir here. In my experience, bad labels come not from the web design team, but from their “clients” throughout the organization. Clients who are very attached to certain words, usually for some perceived branding goodness. I’m hoping that his report can be passed around to a web teams’ colleagues in an effort to make clear why you shouldn’t, for example, label training as “Education Services.”

Go to the main report page
View the full introduction and table of contents
View page 5 of the report

  1. Curious, did you consider the (overwrought) self-reflexiveness of “click here” labels? For example, your labels might be more concise and just as clear writen this way:

    _Main report page_
    _Full introduction and table of contents_
    _Page 5 of the report_

  2. Two comments. First, oy…such a deal! The last paragraph (“This report is likely…”) is actually a much better sell than the language on the Adaptive Path site. At first I was thinking that your price point for this was a lot lower than it could have been, but on the other hand, at $50 for a site license, there’s no thinking about it…if you work with people who’d benefit, it’s like “man, whip out the Amex and get this now.”

    Re victor’s comment, some audiences benefit from action verbs in links. Older adults are one of them. The Fidelity Investments research that found this also found that changes that benefited older adults overall resulted in improvements for younger adults as well. They didn’t do these piecemeal, so it’s not known whether action links are actually detrimental to younger adults. The full Fidelity research report is available thru ACM’s Digital Library, but you can find an overview here:

  3. Oy, so does this mean Peter we can buy and then link to it so no one else has to pay. I believe you pulled this trick a couple of years ago…

    Now you are turning into the next Jakob Nieslen…you really need to go up in price and charge about $5000 per white paper…

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