IMC 2004 – Footnote – the most memorable quotation

One of the most memorable items for me from IMC 2004 will be a quotation. There are very few quotations that will pass the test of time. Some seem good at the time but are forgotten. One for me that is never far from my thoughts is one by Peter Drucker. “Help is defined by the recipient.” That’s about 50 years old but I still find situations where it is very appropriate.

I heard a quotation for the very first time at IMC 2004 and it struck me as a phrase that will persist. Christine Perfetti, User Interface Engineering, mentioned it in her session. I believe it’s Jared Spool of UIE who coined it. “The Back Button Is The Button Of Death”. Several members of the audience immediately showed this was a phrase they knew well. For me, it was a revelation.

Just 8 words but what a message is conveyed. “The Back Button Is The Button Of Death”. Yet it’s something that anybody with a slight familiarity with computers may well not even think about. You are exploring a website and suddenly you end up on a web page that is not where you wish to be. So you right click your mouse to find the Back option or click on the Back Arrow at the top of the screen. You hardly think about it. For you it was at most a minor irritation. For a computer newby, it could indeed be the Button of Death.

Navigating a website should be natural. A clear path should be visible and apparent. Asking visitors to use the Back button is an admission of defeat: there is always an easier way.

Well yes and no. What about PDF files? If a site has a link to a PDF file, then this may be a path where the Back Button is the only way back. Usually it can be a real challenge to find the best way to do this. With the philosophy that the Back Button is the Button of Death, clearly PDF files in websites must be avoided.

Given the speed of change in this Internet world, it is highly unlikely that in 50 years, Jared Spool’s quotation will still be valid. However it is certainly a quotation that I will be using often in the next few years.

One thought on “IMC 2004 – Footnote – the most memorable quotation”

  1. I had the opportunity to attend a User Interface Engineering presentation with Jared Spool and Christine Perfetti last summer. It was a day long seminar in center city Philadelphia, and very enjoyable.

    I walked away from their presentation with a lot of ideas that I’ve kept in mind and used ever since.

    As for pdf files, it is possible to embed links in them. It’s also likely that your pdf is a document that you want people to print, and the layout of the page is important.

    Why not include instructions that “the pdf file will open in a new window. When you are finished with it, just close that window, and you’ll be back where you started.”

    I have seen a number of sites where their creator didn’t include a way to return back to where you’ve come from without using the back button. Only a very small handful were done that way on purpose, and worked. (I believe those pages were bout hypertext theory, too.

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