After years of wielding a stopwatch as a weapon in the battle to streamline client web sites, I’ve noted an alarming trend to shed page weight at any cost — a good heuristic gone bad.

The latest web page diet fad includes dropping wayfinding hints, icons and images and replacing them with drop-down menus. While this may suit for a more experienced user [and can, in fact, be used to good effect to speed more experienced folk along their way to click efficiency] it too often makes wayfinding far more difficult for new or inexperienced web site consumers.

The subtle cues we use to help users sniff out relevance are important. Far too important to simply eliminate in order to shave a few bytes, or even kilobytes, of download efficiency. At best, our user may take a moment or two longer to ponder the site’s navigation… an exchange of Net bandwidth for the brain bandwidth required to ferret out which drop-down list item is most promising. At worst, our unfortunate user chooses wrong, and must back-track, reload the home page, and start over again. Where’s the efficiency in that?

It’s rarely enough to provide lists of links. At the very least, it’s important that we provide context for those links. Even better, we’ll provide link descriptions and titles, so that our readers can determine what they’ll find on the other end of the hyperlink before they click, thus giving them the power to choose.

Any attempt to cure web page woes should subscribe to the cardinal rule of interaction design… don’t make your user feel stupid.

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