Government and Interface
Friday, Apr 18, 2003
Trust the government to spearhead waterfall design at the expense of usability. They're trying to make governmental data easier for ordinary citizens to find, but their 'three clicks or less' mantra leaves a lot to be desired.

"Three clicks or less" sounds great in meetings and when pitching to corporate schmoes, but it has absolutely nothing to do with usability, beyond ensuring that the final product will have been crippled by a false constraint at the outset.

The joining of several databases into a few unified search databases is laudable, but search has so much to do with how search requests are understood by the system, how different results are given levels of significance, and how those levels are indicated to the user, that the most unified search engine can end up being the worst, unless these factorsare taken into account.

Case in point: Go to 4 out of 5 consumer electroncs sites and search for a product name or part number and you'll receive 23 press releases that mention the product name, and you have to drag through two or three pages of search results before actually getting to the product page. This is a particularly lamentable example because it's clear that users desire product pages over press releases, and they could easily be grouped first, or the result set could even be gathered into piles from different categories so the user can say 'ooh, press releases!' and dive into that subset of the results.

Hopefully, government info is just as structured and easily clustered. They also have the benefit of being able to enforce metadata inclusion, to allow better sorting and grouping of result sets based on meta tags.

Of course, my grousing is based on the PR-speak coming from the project, and I'm assuming that the design will follow the propaganda they're spouting to the press. I just hope the actual designers don't accept the 'three click' mandate as the backbone of design, because just because you can get anywhere in three clicks, if each of those clicks are from a palette of a hundred or a thousand, then usability was gone before click one.

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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
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