Webifying Large Documents, Part 6
Our continuing series on how to webify large documents without going insane. Part 6, Providing Guideposts
Step 5: Using the Structure to Provide Guideposts
In order to get through complex materials, users need to be able to understand where they are, what’s to come, and how much more they have to do to finish. Providing this to users—whether in brochure-ware or in web processes—is critical to creating good user experiences.
When you outlined the material in step 4 you probably gave each section a title (if not, do it now!). These titles give you subheads that provide a map of the entire scope of the material. Thus, the subheads become the guideposts for your users. This is why creating this structure was so critical, because it becomes underlying information that allows you to guide end-users through the material easily and without distress, impatience, or frustration.
These guideposts should be made obvious to your users/readers as they work through the material. For instance, for a brochure-ware piece you might provide side navigation with each of the subtitles, and highlight the one in which the user is currently reading. This would also allow users to jump directly to the section that is most interesting to them.
In a process, you can provide very similar information, but generally a process implies that you want users to progress through it in a linear fashion. In this case show the map of the process, but don’t allow users to use that as navigation, since you don’t want them jumping around.
There is no single design guide rulebook for this, but collaboration with your designers and programmers enables you to design a method that is well suited to your materials, users, and programming capability.
For the sake of clarity and making this document easily digestible in a blog format, I have split it into several parts. However, you can download the entire doc here: