UX for #togs – Why Labels Matter

September 4th, 2012 by Theodore Stark

Remember the first time you jumped off the diving board? One of those pivotal moments where you overcame your angst and (finally) dove into the cool water of the unknown.


In preparation for this seemingly seminal moment, you likely watched others use the diving board, listened to them recount their experience, and, most likely, asked questions of those who used the board. All of this in attempts to better predict what your own experience would be like.

Humans are very inquisitive. Even more so when faced with an unfamiliar situation. Observing, listening, and asking questions enable us to formulate an expectation of what will happen. This baseline expectation plays a large role in what eventually compels us to act. In this case, jumping  off the diving board for the first time.

The same behavior is exhibited in how people use the web. Although surfing the web may play a less pivotal role in your life, people still look to establish an expectation with regard to an action. In this context, one of the most common examples is clicking on a link and/or button.

In terms of how we interact with computers, people look for hints and cues that aid in the development of an expectation based on an action. Most commonly, this is in the text we see in the link and/or button. We commonly refer to this text as a label.

For example, let’s say a customer arrives on your website and is browsing through your collection of photos available for purchase. They go through, find an image, and are ready to buy (prepare to do the happy dance…). The user scans for some label that will allow them to purchase the photograph and they see the following…


The example above is not very descriptive. Because this act is similar to that of an e-commerce site, let’s look at Amazon for a reference. On Amazon, the label a user sees is Add to Cart. This lets the user know that:   A) the item they want to buy will be added to a virtual shopping cart (a metaphor the vast majority of the population is familiar with) and,  B) it lets the user know that there may be additional steps necessary to complete their purchase. AmazonThese labels are descriptive and give the end user a reasonable expectation of what to expect when they click on the button. CLICK HERE to purchase does not. The user has no way of setting an expectation based on the text. Remember people look for hints and cues to anticipate actions. This is why descriptive labels are so important.

Descriptive labels lead to clear expectations. In the example of the prospective buyer on your website, a lucid description removes (at a minimum) one less hurdle your buyer has to navigate. Remove as many hurdles as you can and the likelihood of you making a sale goes up. Moreover, your chance of doing the happy dance (despite what others may say about it) goes up too.

From our example above, here is what they could have done differently. To isolate the variables, the only change I made was to the label in the button…


Seems rather simple? Far too often, we come across websites that have not taken the time to think of a descriptive label for their links/buttons. This is not limited to photographers.


Now, some of you may say… ‘What’s wrong with this approach? After all the text after the label provides some context’. Where this may be true, the logic behind it assumes that people will actually read the entire sentence to get the context. Research suggests otherwise. A good label must be able to be understood both inside the context of the surrounding text as well as on its own. The label alone needs the description and hence no need for reliance on supporting words or phrases.

Remember, people need reassurance for their expectation development. Just like observing, listening, and asking questions, people need reassurance on the web too. Click Here is akin to someone just pushing you off the diving board.

Reassure your users by taking the time, and effort, to make sure the labels on your site are terse and descriptive. Remove the hurdles, dive in, and then (no matter how much friends, family, relatives, children, the elderly, or your favorite animal may protest) do your happy dance!

Enough about diving boards, labels, bad dancing, and websites.  Time to get up and go chase the light.

Check out Ted’s work on his website, and follow him on Twitter.



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