Designers are often biased in favor of widely used interaction design patterns on the Web. This makes it difficult for them to find a completely different way of looking at how people would like to deal with information dissection, manipulation, and retrieval on the Web.
Many a times, there is way too much information or too many options to comprehend which can easily frustrate users. It disengages them if they can’t connect with what is presented to them. One such example is the e-commerce website that serves millions of products across thousands of categories.
Most e-commerce websites present product information in a list or in a grid view. Facet search panel on the left comprising of either check boxes or links with bracketed number of products inside each category, is another universal pattern used for product retrieval and filtering. For example, a website selling digital cameras, printers, or flat panel television sets will allow users to filter assortments by technical information such as megapixels, aspect ratio, screen size, FPS, make, model, and more. But most of these facets are not useful for people to make buying decisions anymore. Thus, the overall customer experience decreases.
Few websites show number of reviews to prove product popularity in the market without caring for how long the product has been there on the shelf. Comparing product features is not desirable either, because it just rearranges the technical information in a big table where each product is a column and users are forced to scan the information row-by-row to understand which product is better over the others. Also, as mentioned earlier, technical information does not in any way affect people’s choice of which product to choose.
When people buy certain products as discussed above, they are interested in the purpose and use of such products more than the technical information. Let’s take an example of an office purchase manager searching for a large flat panel television to be used in a conference room with a seating capacity of 10 people for presentations and Internet video calls. Internally, it can be mapped to technical information such as a resolution 1024×768, low priced, Internet ready, and more.
Similarly, let’s look at a man who wants to buy a digital camera to capture his son’s tennis game. Suitable camera can be internally mapped to technical information such as high FPS, bigger aperture, in-built filter, and more. In both examples, the important point is that people want to buy stuff that is aligned to their needs. They find it very difficult to map their needs to the technical search/filter/compare criteria provided by websites.
A designer should experiment with visual/information graphic facets that will allow people to filter and compare products on their practical and emotional needs instead of just technical information alone. A very simple visual representation of information can help people make better decisions, understand something that’s really complex, and connect to them emotionally.
A product’s social popularity on the Web has become very important. Buying decisions are now influenced by people’s online reviews of a product. It is time that e-commerce websites graduate from traditional popularity display patterns. Merely showing information such as ‘number of people recommendations,’ ‘number of people liked or disliked’ or ‘number of reviews’ is not good enough anymore.
Interface designers need to start experimenting with ideas that can generate popularity based on people’s reaction in a particular context, time, and specific needs. For example, you could use data visualization, like pie charts, scatter plots, and relationship circles to compare two point-and-shoot cameras and display it as one being more popular than the other among amateur photographers. Such generic visualization patterns will add depth to the user interface and eventually make it more useful for buyers to make the right decisions.