Michael McDonald's Blog

What's the Next Banana?

Here's an interesting parallel: personal productivity and website usability.

In the 'Getting Things Done' system, a Project is a broad term, encompassing anything (working towards some sort of result) that involves more than one action. Starting a business is a project, as is taking a vacation. Even baking a cake is a Project: you need to find a recipe, shop for ingredients, then actually prepare and bake the cake. One of the major reasons that Projects become 'stuck' is because they are defined too broadly, or they are so complex and intimidating that we are uncertain how the Project can ever be finished.

The trick to unsticking most projects is to ask "What's the next action?". When you are busy doing things, you only need to worry about the tip of the iceberg. Publishing your first novel is suddenly in your grasp, because it has been reduced to "browse writing books at BookBuyers" or "re-read [your favorite novel], taking notes about how it works and why you love it so much".

We glance at a project, and some part of us thinks, "I don't quite have all the pieces between here and there." We know something is missing, but we're not sure what it is exactly, so we quit.
- David Allen, Getting Things Done

This bit of psychology also applies to people attempting to get some sort of result from a website. When a visitor lands on a Web page, they quickly scan around trying to figure out what to do next. All too often, they aren't sure what to do next and they quit -- because the Web page failed to answer their question "What's the next action?" Every page needs a Next Action that leads to the next page, until the visitor's needs have been satisfied or they have given up.

Seth Godin does a good job of driving this point home in his e-book The Big Red Fez, using the analogy of a monkey in a big red fez that is only interested in answering the question "Where's the banana?" The best bit of advice from this book (and there are many good bits) is to design each and every page with one and only one primary objective (the banana). Make it big. Make it obvious. As with planning a seven-course meal, when someone uses a website they have a purpose and need to constantly answer the question "What's the next action?" to fulfill that purpose. Websites that directly support that kind of thinking and provide the banana are going to be much more usable than websites that let their visitors wallow in doubt, trying to figure out where they are and what they are supposed to do next.

link  |   |  2/22/06 07:04pm
 
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