Observation and Design

Richard Stowey's localised view of the world.

Flickr LinkedIn Twitter RSS Feed

Defining the Difference Between Links and Actions – The Land of the Informed

January 27th, 2011 @ 22:42 GMT by Richard Stowey


With a whole host of different actions available to the average web user, do we need to differentiate between these actions in order to allow a more educated result from web interaction? And, in turn, would this encourage further interactions if a user knew what led behind each of those interactions.

This is one of the most difficult and challenging decisions a designer has to make. Setting up a style guide so users know what a particular link does is more important than most realise.

As a simple example, Wikipedia clearly defines the difference between external and internal links with the addition of a simple graphic at the end of each external link. This signifies not only that it is an external link, but a link which will open up in a new window. Genius.

So, what are the actions which are needed to be classified?

  • New page or same page
  • New window or same window
  • Request new data or change visible data
  • Overlay or not overlay
  • Action another program (mailto:, torrent, media etc.)

Obviously it’s ludicrous to include different iconography for each of these elements within the same link.

Some obviously don’t work together. You can’t have an overlay and new window. You can’t action a new program and have that accessed within the same page.

But how do we proceed? Does it make people’s lives easier to show all of these? does the performance of the website increase with the indication of link actions? The informed user exists somewhere between the lands of confusion and unknown.

We have to remember than not everyone is as clued up or as smart at using a website someone else has created, especially when they have only seen it for about 15 seconds!

Confusion by quinn.anya, on Flickr