Interaction Design Conventions As Band-Aids

Digital Web magazine has a new article up on the Usability of Rich Internet Applications. It’s a good article that brings up some salient points. Section 3 of the article touches on a subject that always left me a bit curious. Designers of AJAX applications have spoken at great length about clearly showing users that something’s changed on the page. You’ll often see this in the often-used yellow fade convention. The idea behind it is this: something’s happened and we need to give a user a better indication that something’s happened; that their action actually had consequences – significant consequences. Typically, it’s denoting a write-back (or “saving”) to the server. Luke Wroblewski eloquently stated the technique as “communicating change.”
Stepping back, I can’t help but feel that the last ten or so years of web application building established such a low expectation of interactivity that we need to re-teach users that “hey, this is actually doing more stuff than your typical web app.” I’m guessing that, over time, as AJAX and Flash apps become more mainstream, such conventions will no longer be very distinguishing. It will simply become accepted that applications work this way. When they don’t, we’ll think they’re broken.
Until then, what I think we have to be careful with is establishing conventions like yellow fade not because they are justified on their own merits but because they are needed to help overcome a previous shortcoming in technology (in this case, the static, page-based nature of web applications of old). The Netvibes web portal is a highly-interactive AJAX-driven app that has very little yellow fade and frankly, I don’t think it needs it. The novelty of saving asynchronously to a web server is wearing off. Move on.
More broadly, I think it’s important to move on because I think giving the existing boundaries and limitations too much credence can stifle more creative, innovative thinking.

2 Comments Interaction Design Conventions As Band-Aids

  1. Chris Brogan...

    Rich, I wanted to say that I’m a regular subscriber to your site via Bloglines, and that I really like your posts a great deal. I think the content is always fresh, insightful, and usually a few days ahead of some of the other sites covering the same space.
    Thanks for a good product!
    –Chris of [chrisbrogan.com]

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