.: 24 February 2016 :.

Designing for a non-chronological portfolio experience

I got an Amazon Echo the other day. Yes, it’s great, but that isn’t the point of this post. I’m the type of person who enjoys unpacking and setting up new products. Because I didn’t want to rush unboxing my Echo I actually waited a couple of days for the right moment to set it up. Carefully I went through the steps that it proposed. I downloaded the app, connected it to my wifi and watched the instruction video. To me, the process was delightful.

The next day at work I noticed my colleagues trying to set up an Amazon Echo as well. They tried to connect it to the wifi, but they didn’t succeed. They were confused because they hadn’t downloaded the app yet. Finally they set it up, skipped through the instruction video and started playing with it. Later that day, some of the other colleagues got curious and started to interact with it as well.

In this short period of time, three groups of people interacted with the Echo. Me, going through the entire process, my colleagues trying to set it up and my other colleagues trying to interact with it. We all had quite a different experience.

It made me realize that when we design something, we typically expect a chronological and complete experience. We expect people to read the book we wrote from start to finish. We expect that people read the instructions before using the product. We expect people to watch our entire concept video.

In reality this isn’t happening. People consume our content in a fragmented, illogical and non-chronological way.

Many people stop reading a book after the first chapter. Many people only see parts of a movie, at different moments in time. Many people will skip the instructions.

So what can we do against this kind of behavior? Well, maybe we shouldn’t try to do anything against it at all. Maybe we should actually embrace it. Maybe we should even feed it.

How can we design for a fragmented instead of a complete content consumption? Last week I wrote that not just your projects as a whole, but every individual project standing alone should represent you. I think that is just one way to do it.

I think in general we can feed this behavior by providing structure. A table of contents in a book gives you an overview of the type and amount of content in the book. It makes you predict how much time you might spend on a chapter. It gives you the confidence to skip a chapter because you know where you left off. Still it doesn’t force you to read the book in one particular order.

The table of contents enables people to consume the book in just five minutes.

So how is this relevant to your portfolio? Your visitors won’t see all your projects either. They won’t read every line. Even if they do, they won’t watch trough your entire concept video.

If we provide a structure they can decide what content to consume. If we give them an overview of how many projects and pages there are, they can decide which ones to view. It doesn’t matter that they dive straight into the conclusion of your project, if they know they are at the conclusion. If we can tell them what they have and haven’t seen, they won’t get lost.

You might have a lot of content on your portfolio that visitors will never see. Don’t feel bad about it. Don’t think your blog is useless if your visitors don’t read any of your articles. Just having the “Blog” button in your menu is valuable. Just showing that the content is there gives it value.

If you make an attempt to provide a structure, your visitors will make an attempt to see as much as they can in their limited time.

© 2020 Martijn van den Broeck
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