Stuart Langridge on Javascript

Paul Boag

Yet another live blog from the d.Construct conference here in Brighton UK. I have just been listening to Stuart Langridge speak on DOM scripting and found myself slightly concerned with some of the things he said.

Stuart seemed to be saying at times in his presentation that DOM scripting (Javascript to you and me) gives you the opportunity to change the user experience to suit your "designs".

AJAX can cause confusion

I have to say this concept of creating unique user experiences for your own site concerns me somewhat. I have seen too many examples of where Javascript causes confusion instead of enhancing the user experience. I think I have already mentioned before on this blog the "drag and drop" shopping basket which contradicts peoples expectations of how to add content to your basket.

People expect page reloads

However, the problem is actually even more fundamental than that. The shopping basket example is a problem caused by changing the way people interact with a familiar site function. It is not surprising that something like that causes confusion. What has been more worrying are the results I have been seeing from usability testing on AJAX sites. I have seen users confused because they have expected a page to reload and it hasn’t. It is not uncommon to hear comments like "I have clicked the button but nothing has happened". Because there is not the familiar page update, users presume their requested action has not been completed. Another example was from a user testing session we recently ran on an intranet. On that site, you could add documents to the homepage by ticking a series of checkboxes. Because it was intended this form would use AJAX we didn’t need a save button. After all every time you checked or unchecked an option it was automatically saved. However, in testing we found that users were constantly looking for the option to save. They were so used to having to submit forms that it confused them when that functionality changed.

The importance of keeping the user informed

So although I agree with Stuart that JavaScript can be used to enhance the user experience I am not so sure we should be making fundamental changes to it just yet. When we do decide to use AJAX and JavaScript we need to keep a particular eye on ensuring the user gets the feedback they need to understand exactly what is going on.

A grumpy old man

I have just read through this post and realised what a miserable old sod I am. Most of the posts I have made on this site about Web 2.0 have been kind of negative and yet that is not how I feel at all. I am actually very excited about the possibilities of this new generation of sites. However, I do have a lot of questions which I need to work through. If you are reading my posts thinking I am a doom sayer I would encourage you to stick with it. I can guarantee that as I have more time to think things through my posts will become more positive!