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Checking the "Feel" of Your UI with an Interaction Audit

Design and User Experience
Location: 2006 Level: Intermediate

The best web sites feel smooth and predictable, yet powerful and deep. They achieve this by presenting a limited set of well-chosen interactions that support users throughout the experience. This lowers learning curves to near zero and allows users to concentrate on the content, which is what they’re really after.

As web sites evolve and offer users new interactions, it’s important to take stock of how they behave, and whether those behaviors are consistent. It may be easy to achieve consistent interaction design for a new site, but when more established web sites introduce modern interactions it is frequently in an ad hoc manner, and users may be presented with a variety of methods—new and old—of accomplishing similar tasks. The resulting site can feel jagged and unpredictable, with a steep learning curve and low ease of use.

To correct this problem, designers may establish design patterns to describe the appropriate interactions a site should offer to support users’ objectives. But before that can happen, it’s important to understand the current types of interactions being offered.

Using a recent audit of the interaction design of eBay.com as an example—an audit of the site’s "feel"—we’ll discuss how collecting and cataloging the variety of interactions can be an important precursor to establishing interaction design patterns for a highly trafficked web site.

We’ll walk through the process used to quantify and describe interactions on the eBay site, starting with an audit of a representative sampling of user flows. Data gathered included variability in system response to user interactions with similar controls, multiple paths to accomplish similar tasks, and different representations of similar data objects. We’ll also share a round-up of key findings and discuss future extensions of the audit, including objective and subjective metrics for characterizing the feel of a user experience.

Photo of Josh Damon Williams

Josh Damon Williams

Hot Studio, Inc.

At Hot Studio, Inc., Josh Damon Williams is a Director of Product Strategy and he works with clients to make cool things. As a local leader for IxDA in San Francisco, he brings some of the best thinkers in interaction design to the design community in order to talk about cool things.

Since the late 20th century, he’s designed and developed for a wide variety of digital products and platforms, contributing to the vision, design, and implementation of projects at strategic and tactical levels. His work includes projects for LeapFrog, Hotwire.com, The World Heritage Alliance (a partnership between the UN Foundation and Expedia, Inc.), eBay.com, Cisco Systems, Warner Music Group, and Architecture for Humanity.

Prior to rediscovering San Francisco, Josh studied film in Los Angeles and slaved away for seven hard years in the animation industry where he supervised the digital composition of animated TV shows, commercials and video games. His most indulgent endeavor was the recent completion of an MFA in creative writing at University of San Francisco.

Photo of Peter Stahl

Peter Stahl


Peter Stahl is Lead User Experience Designer at eBay, where he focuses on design patterns, interaction design, and holistic site experience. He led the recent, groundbreaking interaction audit of the site, and is applying that work to implement a coherent “feel” for the user experience. He leads the notorious Pattern OPtimization Squad (POPS) that reviews design patterns, and is also impresario of eBay’s Polynesian-themed Page Parsing Parties, where designs are deconstructed into their constituent components.

Peter’s earlier work at Netscape/AOL included AOL Radio, and his designs for PlaceWare online conferencing can be seen in Microsoft Office Live Meeting. He has also created experiences for application management at Business Signatures, interactive television at SGI and PowerTV, and tablet computers at GO Corp. In his spare time Peter offers advice on California ballot propositions and plays oboe in a local orchestra. He holds a degree in music theory and composition from Harvard.