I know what I want and where I want to go.
There are times in life when we have a clear goal in mind and a fairly good idea of how to achieve it. We’re highly motivated. But we also have enough information to make informed decisions. We’ll know when we’re getting ‘warmer’ or ‘colder’ as we move through a space or structure. We’ll usually have strategies for efficiently getting to our well-understood goal. This is motivated movement.
Motivated movement is the first category in my model of navigation. The alliteration might seem a little strained. But the idea of motivation and ‘conditioned’ behaviour is important to this category. The behaviours have a high degree of intent. This intent combines with (increasingly) ordered information-seeking strategies.
There are times when your actors have a plan for their information-related needs. They have a well understood information need – and they can describe it well too. They understand their need and choose a strategy to satisfy it, so they move with motivation.
I use the word to describe a type of highly directed browsing. An actor will move with a good understanding of the structure (or be able to predict the structure accurately). They will have a specific known topic or target that they can describe with precision. The combination of understanding the target and structure enables them to move with confidence and efficiency.
Before ‘navigating’ there might be (an often unconscious) targeting, as the actor chooses their area of focus. But even when this is unconscious, the need will be specific and usually framed in relation to the information architecture and structure they’ll be using.
There may be periods of sweeping where the user will scan broadly to orient themselves in the information architecture. But this will be for confirmation. They have a good understanding of the structure and where they are – sweeping is only performed to confirm that nothing has changed. Change detection will be quick.
During navigating the user will engage in systematic differentiation as they compare the thing they’re looking for with things in front of them. But because of their high degree of conditioning they’ll be able to do this efficiently, perhaps only towards the end of their navigating. As they move with precision and efficiency they will often (sometimes unconsciously) discriminate and optimise their movement to arrive at their target.
Navigating will often end in the user satisfying their information need.
Information:Affordance = 50:50, the actor is empowered and informed.
When using the term ‘Browsing’ I’m talking about a form of ‘conditioned browsing’. The user will not have the confidence or precision you would expect of someone who is navigating – but their movement will be motivated and reasonably skilled.
Browsing occurs within a pre-identified area of a structure or information architecture. The actor may be directing their movement within and towards a certain type of content or topic. The actor is purposeful but their need is usually coarse or general.
The actor will be able to recognise when they are moving closer to their target. They’ll often refine their target through conditioning as they expand their understanding of both the structure and the target. They will be more likely to ‘take risks’ as they’re motivated by both their information need and their (sometimes unconscious) desire to understand the structure or domain.
Browsing will usually involve the actor sweeping – scanning broadly. This will be more valuable and necessary than when used in navigating. Sweeping primarily helps to identify next steps in movement, rather than verify current understanding. Sweeping will be supported by discriminating, as the actor engages in evaluation and selection of where to go next.
Conditioning will usually increase through browsing. The actor will develop their understanding and mental model of their information need and information architecture, often enabling navigating in the future.
Browsing will often lead to conditioning, satisfying and targeting.
Information:Affordance = 80:20, the actor grows in confidence.
Imagine buying a tin of beans. You know what you want, how to describe it and you have a specific bean shop in mind.
Transactional search is a tools-based strategy for getting something specific. The actor is determined. Their choice of a specific tools-based strategy hints at the tight focus and high degree of motivation. The structured method is reliant on a good understanding of need and focus – fine granularity.
It will begin with targeting and keyword/phrase construction. Depending on the tool the actor will then engage in a process of evaluation, discrimination and optimisation (where needed).
Although these behaviours could lead to a switch to navigating, or more likely browsing, it’s usually a mistake to think like that. An actor engaged in transactional search is more likely to feel frustrated if they’re encouraged to switch modes or strategies. They’ll likely blame the performance of the tool – damaging trust and undermining the experience. So while transactional search is often followed by the same types of behaviours as in browsing, it’s helpful to think of the entire search as a single behaviour set you need to support.
During transactional search a designer might focus on supporting evaluation and discrimination. There might also be opportunities to enable more successful keyword/phrase construction.
Information:Affordance = 35:65, I’ll know it when I see it.
Browsing to Navigating
Considering how and where to move actors between these sets is one reason for the model. Think about conversations where you discuss an actor moving from browsing to navigating and back again.
Sometimes I want to increase the ability of an actor to move through a structure with precision and efficiency. I want to foster a high degree of confidence. I want an actor to spend the majority of their time navigating. But at other times I may want to nudge a user from a navigating mindset to one of browsing. I may want to encourage more serendipitous discovery – more difficult during the tight focus expected during navigating. I may want to break their flow and focus to make it more likely to discover something new or unexpected.
By differentiating behaviours I can consider, “where are the opportunities to support switches in mode and behaviour?” Where are the opportunities in the behaviour sets to jump across into a different mode? In this example I may try to switch the actor back into that ‘conditioning’ mindset – so that their focus broadens.
I’ll talk more about this kind of thinking in the last of these posts.
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