old map with navigational tool
There's a reason why experts should never create the navigation to your website PHOTO: Ben Ostrowsky

I use Optimal Workshop quite a bit. It’s an excellent service for testing navigation, among other things, and I would definitely recommend it.

Recently, I needed to duplicate a study. I had done this once before so I knew it could be done. Yet no matter where I clicked I could not figure out how to do it. Initially I clicked on Create New Study, because with other services I have used, that’s where you can duplicate. No, didn’t work.

Then, I went to Edit. I was sure I had done it in the Edit section before. I looked up and down, I went back and forth, I was stumped and frustrated. I sent a message to Support. I received a friendly, fast response from Paddy at Optimal Workshop. He explained that to duplicate I needed to “click the grey 'edit' button next to the title of the study you wish to duplicate in your study dashboard, then click duplicate.”

I replied, thanking him for his quick reply, but pointing out that, “the Edit button in the dashboard does not allow me to duplicate.”

“Yes, I should have been clearer,” he wrote back. “The duplication feature only works from the Studies tab. The Dashboard is just a quick access interface to get to any live studies.”

Wow, I thought, since when did “dashboard” come to mean a place where you got access to live studies. Why not call such a place “Live Studies.”

When I load Optimal Workshop the default page for me was the Dashboard screen. I just assumed that this must be the homepage, the place where you can do everything and get to everything.

Paddy and his colleagues at Optimal Workshop know their interface inside out and upside down. They have been using Dashboard to mean Live Studies for years, I’m sure. To them, it’s totally obvious what Dashboard means. And that, of course, is the great danger of having experts design a navigation or classification.

That’s why Optimal Workshop delivers such a wonderful and essential service. Because it gives us tools that allow us to get data on how customers react to navigation when they have a task to do. Year in, year out, we find that confusing menus and links are the number one reason for task failure. And yet we also find that menus and links receive the least attention from management and designers.

It is almost impossible to think and behave like a real customer. You are inside your organization and what seems simple to you can often be very confusing to your customers.

Dashboard is a horrible label because its meaning is so incredibly vague. You might as well create labels called “Things” or “Stuff” or “Resources” or “Tools.” 

Never, ever make assumptions when it comes to your navigation. Get evidence. Observe your customers as they try to complete their tasks. Where are they clicking? Where are they not clicking? Change and refine until your menus and links reflect the mental model of your customers, not your organization.