Usability Back to Basics: Should Links Open in New Windows?

Let me preface this post with the admission that I am not a professionally trained web designer. I have had experience designing web-based learning materials and have knowledge and exposure to Usability and User Experience (UX). Some of the past organizations I have worked for held UX as a primary goal in producing good products. I am still very committed to learning how to provide the most user-friendly solutions to the content I deliver. Happier users are more productive workers.

DESIGN QUESTIONS:

  1. Should website links to external sites open in new windows?
  2. If so, how do you differentiate links on a site to external pages to links that point back (internally) to the site?

I wanted to do some research on the questions above to help provide answers but also to solve a problem I am facing with a website I have inherited. This site, which I vaguely referenced this site in a previous post, needs a major overhaul starting with a card sort, but the immediate need is to update some of the more visited pages with current information.

The site was created as a hub to connect learners with other content both within and outside of the site. Therefore,the site is linked to both internal and external resources and each page has multiple links. Sometimes dozens of links.*  Returning to the two questions above, I found the camp somewhat divided on opening in a new browser:

 

YES, open in a new window

 

NO, do NOT open in a new window

After reading the advice and developer discussions on the sites above as well as additional resources, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will continue to keep external pointing links pointed to opening in new browsers, because they are reference to content outside of our own.  I’m also leaning to proposal #1 below to help guide or teach users where to go.

My proposed solutions to fixing the page content would be as follows:

  1. Train users where to expect internal pointing links vs. external pointing links. If possible keep the internal pointing links together in 1 section at the top of the page. Links that point to an external site are kept in a second section. There are no explicit instructions that warn users, but eventually repeat users learn that anything they click at the top of the page points to the same site, but links on the bottom half are external links. They start to expect the behavior.
  2. Give the users a choice. Have the current link open in the same browser, but provide an icon that allows them to open in a new browser. While this seems like the politest option, from a web developers perspective it is the most labor intensive. Also, it will me you will have to update links in two places.
Proposed temporary solution to web page design.

Proposed temporary solution to web page design.

* I have to resist the desire to say that such hub sites are NOT helpful  to users because their architecture is often not based on personal user experiences.

 

 

Empathy map: An excellent tool for planning change or any other initiative

I recently read through IDEO’s Tom & David Kelley’s book Creative Confidenceand I found a great deal of inspiration for helping build buy in for my designs and proposals. I also was able to add to my collaboration tool kit, as the book also presents stories and collaborative processes that can help kick start creativity on any team.

We have all worked on initiatives where we were so rushed that it felt if we built out our case logically and spelled out the benefits to our audience, they would naturally accept the change… or so we thought. But as we’ve found time and time again, “If you build it, they will come” often proves to be one of the most ineffective product launching strategies.

IDEO’s approach to design and change initiatives is a human-centered one that examines potential reactions to any sort of new product, object, service or change. The Empathy Map tool presents a simple start at mapping and envisioning how people will react to what you’re putting in front of them whether it is a user interface to a purchasing tool or an ice-cream scoop.

The Empathy Map asks four questions in regard to your change, product, or initiative:

  1. What will people say?
  2. What will people think?
  3. What will people do?
  4. What will people feel?
Empathy Map Questions

Ask these questions to think out how your audience will receive or react to your initiative or change.

Normally, you would put these questions up on a white board or pieces of chart paper and have your team write their answers to these questions on Post-It notes, but I work in virtual teams, so I created a PowerPoint version (see Resources below). These questions can help you sort through possible reactions and prioritize the ones that you should address. Then start making a plan for how you will address those.

In my example PowerPoint, I included the simple example of sending out a survey. Everyone loves taking surveys right? After listing a few audience reactions, thoughts, and feelings, I made an initial attempt at addressing those that I’ve seen in the past.  What I appreciate about this approach is that is a little more thorough. It allows you to separate and methodically map these reactions vs. coming up with the most ‘scary’ ones and reacting solely to those.

Resources:

Part 2 on herding cats: diving into using Six Hat thinking

Six_Hats_For_Evaluation_Feedback_Session_Agenda_Generic

Six Hats Thinking agenda for feedback

Six Hats Thinking agenda for feedback

Most brainstorming sessions I have participated in frustrate me because it seems that people are so inclined to jump into the part where you solve the problem before you have enough data or information. In an earlier post, I mentioned how useful Edward deBono’s Six Hat Thinking is for herding those proverbial cats in the workplace.  What I really appreciate about the deBono model of facilitation is that it helps bring thoughtful order to collaborative work without forcing participants to use a highly constrictive process. If facilitated smoothly, it allows the group to separate their egos from objective sharing while still giving a voice to intuition and feelings.

Also, most importantly, Six Hat Thinking allows other voices to come into play in discussions other than just those four to five loud ones that typically are most heard the most vocal in many larger group discussions.

Recently, I held a project wrap-up and feedback session built around deBono’s Six Hats. We had a very limited amount of time and we were all pressed to providing meaningful contributions to a discussion after a heavy lunch.   I did find four things most helpful for the discussion’s success.

  • Allow people to gather their thoughts in accordance to the Six Hats thinking model prior to the meeting. I provided an optional worksheet or prompts for the discussion. At least people could frame their thoughts prior to the session rather than feeling as if they had to respond on the spot.
  • Keep the explanation about deBono’s theories and the Six Hats to a minimum while restating the main objective of the feedback session which is to gather information to improve the project management process going forward.
  • Gather the information ahead of time about the project charter (Blue hat thinking) and an initial set of project facts and stats (White hat thinking).
  • Take the colored hats reference out of the agenda but share it later or as part of a handout.

The last piece of advice, I applied last minute to my presentation because I didn’t want to focus primarily on the process of using the hats but on our main objective to gather information to improve our process for future initiatives. The discussion was rushed, however being able to shift between the positive (Yellow hat) and negative aspects (Black hat) of the project before diving into the solution space (Green hat) allowed us come up with a more exhaustive list of areas for improvement.  I was also careful to make sure to include time for the Red hat at the end to express our intuition and emotions about the project because it gave us an opportunity not to achieve some closure, but to express the emotions or thinking that are often pent up during a project as well as to celebrate our feelings of accomplishment and even relief as an end note.

I actually, wished that we had done this more regularly, but upon reflection, if the context and some guidelines (rules) aren’t provided around sharing of emotion and assumptions, discussions might not be as productive as you’d like. This is the part of meeting facilitation that I want to improve at going forward.

You can view the templates and slides I used for my feedback session here:

Slides used (pptx format)

Six_Hats_For_Evaluation_Feedback_Session_Agenda_Generic_Ex

Pre-work template

SixHats_Feedback_Input

Slideshare: Being an excellent but quirky boss means you need to get opinions from the “straight men” on your team

It’s hard for one not to like a show that demonstrates spot on storytelling and character development despite its 30 minute format. It’s hard not to like a show that not only makes you excited about music but inspires you to see connections between art and the realities we live in. This show was just plain fun to watch and it re-affirmed to me the importance of passion and commitment as leadership qualities I admire. Maestro Rodrigo embodied these characteristics, and I spent time examining how and why.

Continue reading ‘Slideshare: Being an excellent but quirky boss means you need to get opinions from the “straight men” on your team’

Why I’d love to have Rodrigo De Souza as my boss

Sometimes it takes a character on TV to show us what a good boss looks like…

Yes, I love this character so much I made an infographic about him

Yes, I love this character so much I made an infographic about him

Continue reading ‘Why I’d love to have Rodrigo De Souza as my boss’

Using QR codes & your CMS to create media enabled learning workstations

I’ve been playing with this idea of using QR codes at workstations to help link employees to training content and media. The idea is that the learners easily access any learning media associated with the workstation equipment from a phone or tablet that they access using a QR Code tied to this content. If multiple process instructions are needed at the workstation, multiple QR codes, labeled appropriately can be listed on a laminated card present at the workstation.

This would provide a great opportunity to leverage tagged learning content housed in a Content Management System (CMS) built in Drupal or possibly SharePoint (with some jerry-rigging). The proper administrators could monitor and update content as needed and editors or approvers could be notified when new content needed to be reviewed before publication. You can leverage some of the content administrative tools to log dates from last updates and who was involved.

I am still working out the details around this plan. I will update as I flesh out more.

A few additional considerations:

  • Always make sure closed captioning is available or employees have access to headphones to avoid distracting co-workers with audio or video content
  • Decide if the content is not appropriate for viewing outside the firewall. If so, the phones or tablets used would have to be given access within the wall
  • If you’re providing video, audio content or demos, make sure to always include text content of scripts or step action tables. Enable users to forward or email links to this content to their email accounts or workstations. There are always a handful of people who want to read things on their own. As always, it’s best to accommodate as many learning styles as possible
  • Set up a scheduled update procedure for content. Even if content does not need to be updated it’s always good practice to coordinate a regular review with SME’s to check on if processes or software updates may impact the procedures documented
Click to view recipe card in full size

Click to view recipe card in full size

A deeper look at collaborative leadership

Previously I mentioned that I’d like to delve into what leaders can do to develop a more collaborative and innovative culture, but before I do that I thought I should better define “Collaborative Leadership.” I did previously write a brief post on this earlier inspired by a blog post on the topic.

In an effort to rapid prototype my work I’m putting a rough-cut of a presentation here as a start. This is based off of the infographic from Innocentive. This was my effort to paint a picture of what collaborative leadership looks like vs. the traditional leadership many of us are used to. You can view the draft slides by clicking the image or link below.

As I mentioned previously here, collaborative leaders are more likely to focus on leveraging the collective strengths of their teams (engaging all members). I suspect leaders in cultures that are hierarchical in the traditional sense will have to learn or un-learn a few things when it comes to leading this way.

But there is a demand for building those collaborative leadership muscles that come from the need to flex and adapt to a market that requires change at a break-neck pace.

Slide set front page view

Click to view the a quick examination of what it means to be a collaborative leader

CollaborativeLeadershipGoogleSlides


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