Commentary

What Would Jakob Nielsen Think?

  • by June 18, 2007
As broadband video content continues stretching its legs from information to entertainment to advertising to education and beyond, one of the key questions that’s being debated is how to best integrate video into the conventions and best practices of the online user experience.

Scores of books have been written, including those by the godfather of user experience himself, Jakob Nielsen, on what good looks like in the development of an effective online user experience.  But even within those recent editions that have been purportedly “updated” from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, there hasn’t really been a definitive point of view on how to best integrate the video experience/platform as a part of the whole, or, for that matter, when it is the whole, into user experience.

There are those who have argued, “Why should video be treated differently than any other content? It’s just another feature that, if placed in the hands of a good I/A person, will find its natural hierarchy on the page.”  Then there are others who submit that video platforms like Brightcove, Maven and others actually require extensive usability studies to determine how to best integrate video into the overall user experience design.  As video players become a more prominent feature of the home page user experience, where does activating full sight, sound and motion fit in the hierarchy of relevance, simplicity, and the creation of “delightful interactions”?

Inquiring marketers want to know… and with the integration of video on the page moving so quickly, one has to wonder, are we really ready for guidelines on this?  Or do we need a bit more time to determine what good looks like?  I’m sure there are loads of opinions out there, which I’d love to hear.  What I find interesting to ponder is how we integrate what has traditionally been a lean-back form of content into a lean-forward environment without making it the be-all/end-all -- or sacrificing it to the rigor of those user experience designers and information architects whose adherence to Web 1.0 HTML grid-based thinking has already made certain practices “universal truths” without any real experience in what intrigues users into narrative storytelling.  

These are interesting times.  The Web canvas is becoming more open and dynamic, while the way we scan and process static information hasn’t changed much since the advent of the printing press.  Yet we have recently discovered that online video, be it Flash or otherwise, provides brand marketers the opportunity to deliver deeper, richer stories in a more human manner than static messaging has allowed us to do for decades.  As video players become more and more prevalent across the site development landscape, yes, they’ll need to be easy to find, easy to activate and easy to control.  But of the many questions currently being pondered by information architects and user-experience designers in the age of video, the one that keeps me wondering is, is it really safe to assume that users are always in a “don’t make me think” mindset at the outset of the experience? What if they’re coming in not just to “accomplish” something, but actually to “discover “ something instead?  

In this new world of “engagement” metrics, time spent “discovering” through features like the narratives of online video actually equates to more time spent, higher CPMs for publishers and richer information delivered to “viewsers” (the combination of “viewer” and “user”).  And those are metrics that translate to better results for brand marketers.

Now that’s no excuse to make users work to find the video play button.  What it does suggest is that, as we continue to integrate linear video into the static user experience, do we need to acknowledge that there are, in fact, different user mindsets for different types of content -- and which do we put first?  

Then I ask myself, what would Jakob Nielsen think?

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