No set of interface usability guidelines can answer the most important questions that must be answered before you design Web interfaces: What are the goals for building the site? What content will be presented? And, who is the primary audience? In general, your primary goals, e.g., to educate, to entertain, to sell, to foster creative expression, or some combination of these will dictate the content you provide and its unique look and feel.
Metaphors can fulfill a variety of important roles in a Web site, e.g., informing users about available information, helping them navigate, and creating desired atmospheres or settings with desired tones/styles that integrate and unify the site's visual images and layouts. Identifying candi date metaphors and developing them to support these different roles is based on the idea that using familiar concepts and images can make it easier for users to understand and remember something new.
Metaphors act as the building blocks from which users construct models of how the site is organized and works, i.e., they create expectations based on users' prior knowledge. However, they only work if the audience is familiar with the metaphor, and if the metaphor is well suited to the content.
Navigational metaphors create meaningful contexts for relating known concepts. In contrast, functional metaphors are meant to be taken more literally so that the depicted object or action either provides access to their functions, or directly performs the function, e.g., placing files into folders in the classic desktop metaphor.
One major problem with developing metaphors, however, is that it is often difficult to create a consistent look and feel for sections and subsections below the home page. Thus, many sites use a top-level metaphor to establish a theme, or to create visual appeal, but do not enforce it more than one or two levels deep into the page structure.
When metaphors work well, they help users understand how information is organized based on their distinctive visual features and contexts.
The most important issues in choosing and developing metaphors, besides setting an atmosphere or creating a distinctive style, are to:
|+||Use metaphors to organize information that supports real user goals and tasks, rather than only for style.
|+||Help orient users by establishing useful expectations about the site's organization and/or functionality.
|+||Make sure the metaphor does not clash with the content to be delivered. In particular, be careful not to combine too many or conflicting metaphors into your site; using too many metaphors or mixing them inappropriately can easily confuse and frustrate users.
|+||Avoid multiple metaphors within the same site unless the sections are clearly marked and have a different function.|
The more logical and consistent the overall layout of the site and its pages are, the easier it will be for viewers to quickly scan categories, particularly with repeated visits.
|+||Make the site's look and feel as consistent as possible, i.e., present information (e.g., headers, alignments, images, banners, etc.) consistently, and use the same sequences of actions across similar conditions throughout the site.
|+||Make sure that recurring text or buttons appear in the same place on different pages.
|+||Use similar headings to indicate similar divisions of information across pages.|
|Use language that is familiar to viewers, or provide definitions and descriptions to clarify technical concepts or jargon.
|Use terms consistently throughout the site.|