Designers often get biased to widely used interaction design patterns on Web. It makes it difficult for them to find a completely different way of looking at how people would like to deal with information dissection, manipulation, and retrieval on Web.
Many times there is too much of information, too much data, or too many options and choices to make sense of. Users can easily become frustrated or disengage if they can’t find a connection with what is presented to them. One such example is e-commerce websites serving millions of products across thousands of categories.
Most e-commerce websites serve product information in a list or in a grid view. Facet search panel on left comprising either check boxes or links, with bracketed number of products inside each category, is another universal pattern used for product retrieval and filtering. For example, a website selling digital cameras, printers, or flat panel television sets will allow users to filter assortments by technical information such as megapixels, aspect ratio, screen size, FPS, make, model, and more. Most of these facets are not useful for people to make buying decisions anymore.
Few websites show number of reviews to prove product popularity in the market without caring for how long the product has been there on the shelf. Comparing product features is not desirable either because it just rearranges the technical information in a big table where each product is a column and users are forced to scan the information row-by-row to understand which product is better over others. And as mentioned before, technical information does not anyway affect people's choice of product.
When people buy items of such kind as mentioned above, beyond the technical information they are interested in the purpose and use of such products. Let's take an example of an office purchase manager searching for a large flat panel television to be used in a conference room with a seating capacity of 10 people for presentations and Internet video calls. Internally, it can be mapped to technical information such as resolution 1024x768, low priced, and Internet ready, and more. Similarly, let's look at a man who wants to buy a digital camera to capture his son’s Tennis game. Suitable camera can be internally mapped to technical information such as high FPS, bigger aperture, and in-built filter, and more. In both examples, the important point is that people want to buy stuff that is aligned to their needs. They find it very difficult to map their needs to the technical search/filter/compare criteria provided by websites.
A designer should experiment with visual/information graphic facets that will allow people to filter and compare products on their practical and emotional needs instead of technical information alone. A very simple visual representation of information can help people make better decisions, and understand something that's really complex, and connect them emotionally.
A product’s social popularity on the Web has become very important. Buying decisions have started to get influenced by people's online reviews of a product. It is time that e-commerce websites graduate from traditional popularity display patterns. Merely showing information such as "number of people recommendations," "number of people liked or disliked" or "number of reviews" is not good enough anymore.
Interface designers need to start experimenting with ideas that can generate popularity based on people’s reaction in a particular context, time, and specific need. For example, one could use data visualization, like pie charts, scatter plots, and relationship circles to compare two point-and-shoot cameras and display one being more popular than the other among amateur photographers for taking home pictures and not so popular among professional or wildlife photographers along with comparative results achieved. Such generic visualization patterns will add depth to the user interface and eventually make it more useful for buyers to make right decisions.