Robert Beerworth | 4/09/2012
The word ‘pagination’ is one used really only by web designers, programmers and desktop publishers.
It essentially means dividing content into discrete pages. For instance, when you do a search on a website and results are listed 10 per page, this is pagination:
(Incidentally, Smashing Magazine have a good article on how to make pagination – usually the most dull, utility and uninspired design on your website – look good.)
The very design and concept of pagination is to order content or results in a logical and digestible fashion, such that we can identify the most relevant result as easily as possible.
From there, we jump away from the paginated content and into the result itself, heart rate dropping now that we’ve moved away from the awful world of paginated content and into the glorious pillow of content we wanted all along.
(Heart rate back up – alert and concentration levels at Code Red – when we discover the result we clicked didn’t have what we needed, though that is another story).
Can you change this pattern of use for users of your website?
Do you have the right sort of website for such that you would want to impede on the user’s primary objective of getting their result?
What can you do with pagination?
Let’s make it crystal clear – especially for all the website Information Architects about to pounce – that I am not condoning bulldozing the underlying purpose of pagination.
Pagination remains the de facto way to deliver results to users and whilst it is being improved upon with ideas such as ‘visual results’ and ‘swiping’ (but to name two), the principal of pagination needs to remain the same.
What we can all agree upon about pagination, is that it looks and works like shit: pagination induces a highly utility process of sorting through content and results as quickly as possible in order to find what we need.
Though maybe this is also the upside of pagination?
The idea of 1 | 2 | 3 | 8776 is also terrible.
As a user, how can I possibly know what is on page 8776, let along 2?
Unless I am looking at search results and can assume that page 1 has the most relevant results – and page 8776 the least – what can I do?
It’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel?
Even if results are from newest to oldest, what does page 90 represent?
What we can also agree about pagination, is that it makes us particularly ‘active’ and focused users.
And it is this that I think is interesting.
If we summarise my two theories above: as a user, you’re working through the always-average experience of paginated content and you’re intently focused.
Which in theory means, we could not only brighten the experience by gracefully interrupting the process – even by displaying a certainly page differently – though we could take full advantage of that focus of yours.
Let me explain.
Change the focus
When users receive lists of data, they expect to see a list. Starting your users in a journey presenting a list of results is probably the safest and smartest bet.
Let’s say however, that the user is looking for articles through your blog or website. They’re looking for an article on X.
They click onto | 3 | (Page Three) and rather than seeing the same looking x10 results, we use the screen to showcase a single article, pulling out the key assets from the article, like the excerpt and introduction, a video and a focus on the key outtakes from the article.
The page is visual and of interest; it provides an unexpected ‘surprise’ to the user.
If the user so wishes, they can move to |4 | (Page Four) easily enough.
But the experience delivered to the user went from one of utility and tedium, to a more visual and interesting experience.
Indeed, whilst the user is ‘active’ and focused on finding the article they need, who says you can’t interrupt them under any circumstances. If you’ve delivered them a proposition that is interesting and well presented, there is a good likelihood they will click it.
That’s because the user is focused: they’re reading, and you gave them something interesting to read. Anxiety in the user drops, enjoyment increases: the enjoyment indicating that as a user, I don’t actually mind being interrupted.
And that’s a good thing; and the fact that they found something interesting on your website and escaped the perjury of paginated content, is surely an upside?
If they do click into your content, they can then regroup back to their ‘active’ search for your content or article once they’ve read the article or content you teased them with: you have taken them on a journey they said they were happy to take by virtue of clicking into your highlighted content.
Indeed, I reckon the approach would see more page views and time on website; you’re taking the user to parts of your website they would never have visited.
Which brings me to my second question: when would this not be such a great idea?
One of the first rules of usability is to remove any roadblocks from a user’s goal.
I think this depends on the goal however.
And the type of website you are.
If you’re a search engine, chances are that users are not using you for a laugh; your only goal in life as a search engine, is to get them to the best result as quickly as possible.
If you’re a news website however, or a restaurant directory or a website that does doesn’t carry precise, mission-critical and scientific content, I think you might be able to get away with it.
If you’re a website design blog, definitely. (Shameless plug I know!)
Imagine: "Australian web stats that will amaze you." (I'd click it for sure!)
If you are monetising your website and its content, most definitely; take the users to where you want them to go = your most profitable content!
What I am suggesting might not seem revolutionary, except that any time I have suggested changing what are in effect ‘listings’ of content or ‘search results’, Information Architects have gone nuts at me.
They argue that the user should be in total control and interfering with this is up there with money laundering and market manipulation.
Indeed, a few years ago I tried to have a search engine on a client website work in such a way, that if the user typed say “Heinz Ketchup” and we knew that the majority of users would end up on the “Heinz Ketchup” page, why not just take the punt and take them straight there?
Why show them results?
How many of them are asking for press releases about Heinz Ketchup after-all?
I was however, sent to the corner of the room on the basis that I was taking away choice from users.
Bah! Just show me the ketchup I asked for!
Personally, I think we can wrest some of that power back as website designers and website owners; it’s our website after all and as long as we delight and surprise users rather than piss them off, let’s challenge convention.
Interested in learning more?
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