anti-Alertbox: Jakob says ‘Anchor links are evil’. Discuss.

Jakob says:

On the Web, users have a clear mental model for a hypertext link: it should bring up a new page. Within-page links violate this model and thus cause confusion.

What is wrong with this assertion?

Anchor links have conventions and mental models that are independent of other types of hyperlinks.

There’s nothing new about anchor links. They’ve been around almost as long as hyperlinks themselves.As Jeff Chausse points out in his recent post , anchor links have been around longer than image tags (since at least 1992). In the hotch potch that has been web design over the years, anchor links are probably one of the interaction design elements that have been applied with most consistency over the years. There are strong conventions around the use of anchor links. The mental models is pretty darn simple too.

Not only that, but these days, clicking a link can do so many things – anchor links and bringing up new pages are just a few of them (think RIA design… now, some of those uses violate mental models!)

My opinion: provided you use anchor links where appropriate (being where pages are necessarily long and broken into easily identifiable sections) and providing you utilise appropriate conventions for anchor links in the page (including ‘back to top’ buttons), then anchor links can enhance the usability of your website. (The obvious disclaimer being that you should, where possible, minimise the length of your pages).

So. Where do you stand? Are you with Jakob or against him on this one?

links for 27 February 2006

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documenting usability for RIA (or, when interface design gets collaborative)

Yahoo Autofill

I’ve been reading a bit lately about the challenges that Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s) present to people interested in designing elegant, efficient, usable interfaces. Most recently it was Usability for Rich Internet Applications by Donna Maurer over at Digital Web Magazine.

One of the aspects of RIA interface design that is causing some consternation (or at least discussion) at the moment, is around how we make the interfaces easy to use.

There are lots of great ideas being thrown around, techniques that look as though they could evolve into future conventions.

One thing I find myself thinking of often is how we go about documenting these conventions.

It has been my experience that in reading about RIA and usability, many of the suggestions made fall into what would traditionally be the realm of the visual designer or the application developer. Examples (from the article cited above) include:

… Visual attention is attracted by movement and high color contrast … We can use this to our advantage and draw the eye to the updated part of the page [Visual Design]

… By making sure the change occurs quickly …. we can ensure the eye is drawn to the appropriate place [Application Developer]

… Odeo provides effective feedback by using color (and) movement [Visual Design]

Now, for me, these are all excellent suggestions for making RIAs more usable. They are also things that, traditionally, I would have neglected to include in my project documentation. Say I was working in a large development team and wasn’t involved in the ‘production’ phase of the project (where the designers and developers took up my specifications and built the project), I couldn’t guarantee that these measures would be taken. I could only hope that they’d be picked up and recommended in later usability testing. Not good enough really, is it?

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links for 24 Febuary 2006

Friday linkey goodness :)