Over time users expect websites to behave a certain way. Clicking the logo will take them to the home page, Navigation will be presented at the top or left, copyright and legal info will be found in the footer. These expectations help users navigate faster since they know what to expect when visiting unfamiliar websites, based on previous experiences on the web.

A good rule of thumb or design principle to use in interaction design is to follow the “Principle of least astonishment“. In the case of interactive software applications, for example, users form expectations based on their experience with similar kinds of software.

With more websites taking the leap from static content brochures to interactive services, these same principles apply for website design as well.

Here is a quick usability test.


Case 1: Following ‘techcrunch’ on Twitter


I’m , looking for someone who I know uses twitter, but I don’t have a link to their profile. I want to search for them and follow their twitter updates.Twitter - Step 1
Twitter - Step 2


I’m , looking for somewhere to search for them on the twitter homepage, or any pages linked to it. No Dice.

By not including search functionality twitter made it much harder for me to connect to a user.


Twitter - Step 3


I do the next best thing i know and search google, with hopes of finding their profile. keep in mind that this is a public profile, and did not require me to be a twitter user to view, so I should be able to search for it right on twitter and get much more relevant results than through google.


Twitter - Step 4

Twitter - Step 5

I scan the page for a link to Follow them on Twitter. The link does not exist. Take a second to pause here. This is a huge problem.

What do people do on twitter ?
They Follow other people via their twitter streams.

The most basic function of this web service is hidden on this page.

Nowhere on this page do they tell me that I need to login before I can ‘Follow’ someone. But I login anyway to see if I can follow them after logging on.

Twitter - Step 6Twitter - Step 7

Logging In took me to my dashboard. This is not where I wanted to be, I wanted to follow techcrunch. It doesn’t redirect me back to the page I was on. There are no links to go back to the twitter stream I was viewing.

I still haven’t been able to follow the techcrunch twitter stream. To get back to their page I have to look through my history or click my ‘Back’ button. Most people click the back button, I did the same.

Twitter - Step 8

This left me at the login page. Back once again for the TechCrunch twitter Stream.

Twitter - Step 8

Twitter - Step 10

And there is still NO link for ‘Follow’. This is because Im being served a cached version of the page. I have to refresh the page to see the ‘Follow’ link. Less computer-savvy users may miss this part entirely.

Twitter - Step 11


Case 2 : Adding ‘Radiohead’ as a Myspace friend


Myspace 1

Myspace 2

Myspace 3

Myspace 4

Myspace 5


The winner : Myspace

The myspace add to friends process was so much simpler that I didn’t even feel the need to explain the screenshots. Every step was a step forwards and a step towards adding radiohead as my friend, no back-tracking required.

The Best User Interface is the one thats transparent and allows the user to get tasks done. Although twitter may look better it is certainly not more user-friendly.

  • BareFoot CEO

    Great post!

  • My bet is that you use MySpace far more often than Twitter.

    Both of these sites rely heavily on learned conventions specific to their implementation. I agree that the experience of following someone on Twitter could use some help, especially for a non-authenticated user, but that could be largely remedied by adding the follow button to the user page regardless of user state.

    The link to add friends on MySpace is very difficult to find amidst most customized profile pages. Plus, the fact that the look and feel of the utility links can be customized results in an inconsistent experience that is challenging for the noobs.

    I would say that both interfaces have serious challenges, but with regular use an average user can intuit how to do the most common tasks on both sites.

  • How funny! I just joined Twitter today and wanted to search for any friends hwo use it and I ran right smack into the problem you’re describing. It was so frustrating I almost gave up!

    Although I hate to see myspace win in any kind of an interface face-off because that $#!t drives me nuts!

    Great post!

  • Great observations. Customer expectations are for a simple experience, especially as Apple keeps raising the bar on usability! If these social tools want to break through to non-techies, they have to be easy to use.

    Asking customers what they expect is always a great way to start! Also, making sure the most commonly-used tasks are front-and-center will help. Twitter has a strong following (ha ha) but needs to think about this type of usability to break through.

    Rock on!

  • Zach

    wow… i think this is kinda stupid. Why would u expect to be able to follow someone or search for someone or use the website at all if your not logged in? You can’t follow someone unless you have an account, how would they tell you what they’re doing without an account… of course you have to log in first! and they reason they took you to the homepage is because YOU LEFT THE TECHCRUNCH PAGE BY CLICKING THE “LOG IN” LINK AND TRAVELING TO A DIFFERENT PAGE… why would you expect them to take you back to where you were? after you left it? and again, why wouldnt you start off by logging in? It would make it som much easier for you…

  • @Zach

    These buttons and links alert the users to possible functionality, which they would be unaware of otherwise.

    Same reason you should see the ‘Buy Now’ button on an e-commerce website even if you are not logged in and would need to be to purchase.

    would you hide those buttons for customers that have not logged-in? expecting them to know that you have to log in to actually buy something ?