Improving User Workflows with Single-Page User Interfaces

By Joost Willemsen

Published: November 20, 2006

“Sometimes, one gets the feeling that Web developers implement richness just for the sake of making a Web site and the company that commissions it look cool.”

Over the last two years, Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) have been a hot topic of discussion. While the sheen has already begun to wear off the buzzword Ajax a bit among Web application designers, RIAs are bigger than ever with our clients and their customers. Everyone seems to love slider-based filtering, drag and drop, fisheye menus, and auto-completion for input fields. Web application designs that include none of these typical Ajax features are not well received. Sometimes, one gets the feeling that Web developers implement richness just for the sake of making a Web site and the company that commissions it look cool. Obviously, user experience design should be about a lot more than creating cool controls.

Having said this, I believe RIAs are here to stay, but not so much because of their cool controls as because richness can improve the way Web applications support complex, non-linear user workflows.

Multi-Page Versus Single-Page User Interfaces

“One of the most exciting aspects of Ajax is the single-page user interface, in which all interactions with a Web application take place on one page.”

One of the most exciting aspects of Ajax is the single-page user interface, in which all interactions with a Web application take place on one page. Only relevant controls and information appear on the page; those that a user does not currently need are hidden. As necessary, an application can readily display new information or functionality by partially refreshing the page. Highly interactive features like real-time error feedback, inline editing, within-page calculations, and filtering and sorting of tables are similar to those you’d find in desktop applications. Single-page user interfaces allow users to work in an intuitive, non-linear way.

Web applications weren't always like this. In a lot of ways, early Web applications seemed to be a step backward, requiring us to trade usability for connectivity. Web sites were multi-page environments in which users went from page to page. This model sufficed for many user tasks like reading news articles. Reading news usually begins with a user’s clicking a headline or preview text, which displays another page containing the full article. When an article is lengthy, it may be broken up and displayed over several pages. A user navigates between these pages by clicking Next and Previous buttons. Since the process of reading is rather linear anyway, the linearity of this navigational model poses few problems to users. It seems completely appropriate to click a Next button to view the next page.

Traditional, multi-page Web application design works well for these kinds of simple, linear user workflows, but single-page user interfaces support complex, non-linear user workflows much more effectively. To demonstrate this, I will use the example of a travel booking Web application.

Booking Travel Online

“With so much content, the findability and usability of information have become crucial.”

Customers booking a holiday online are looking for value, which generally means the best combination of price and an experience that meets their expectations. When you book a holiday, you are buying something you can’t see or try out. The only thing you can do is try to assess the various components that make up your holiday—for example, by looking at information about flights, accommodations, and things to do and see at your destination. The content on online travel booking sites is getting better and more extensive all the time, with new types of content like video, reviews, ratings, categorized attributes, and so on, in addition to textual descriptions and images. With so much content, the findability and usability of information have become crucial. And, because travel booking can be a very complex user workflow, that’s where Rich Internet Applications come in. What is it that makes travel booking complex?

A Complex User Workflow

While travel booking has its peculiarities, it’s essentially a purchasing process that comprises six basic steps:

  1. Define your needs.
  2. Search for products that meet your requirements.
  3. Evaluate and compare alternatives.
  4. Decide which alternatives best match your needs.
  5. Complete your purchase.
  6. Re-evaluate your purchase.

Now, that looks straightforward and linear. So why is this workflow complex?

The answer is: It’s not always complex. Depending on the type of holiday, the available offerings, and the personality and needs of the customer, it can be simple indeed.

It’s clear that the type of holiday makes a lot of difference. Is it a short getaway or a longer holiday? Is your destination close to home or far away? If you’re going hiking for the weekend in nearby mountains, all you need to do is book a refuge for a couple of nights. So that’s not complicated. However, if you’re taking a two-month-long roundtrip to Australia, you’ll probably need flights, a car, reservations at a series of hotels, and perhaps some excursions. Complexity rises with the number of components you must consider.

For some types of holidays, the number of available offerings is huge, but for others, your options are limited. There are thousands of holiday package offerings if you want a typical beach resort holiday. On the other hand, if you’re planning a roundtrip through Uzbekistan, you’ll probably have fewer options, so making choices might be easier.

Much depends on the personality and needs of the customer. Some people go to the same place every year, staying in the same hotel, perhaps booking their reservations directly with that hotel. Other people may not know where they want to go, but decide on the very first special offer that catches their eye, without bothering too much about it. Business travelers often have very specific requirements with regard to location, the class of service, and dates and times that prevail over all other considerations, making it easier for them to decide. All these types of people can be fast bookers for whom the purchasing process is not complex.

However, while some people know exactly what they want, many people don’t. Suppose you want to go on a summer holiday with your family for a couple of weeks. You might define your holiday like this: We want to go to a sunny place where beach weather is certain. We want to stay in comfortable accommodations, with a swimming pool. We prefer a quiet location, but without being totally remote from shops and restaurants. The surroundings should offer some cultural sights to see. This picture seems clear enough, but in Europe alone, tens of thousands of holiday packages to destinations around the Mediterranean fit this description. Even narrowing down your destination to just one country like Spain, Greece, or Turkey leaves you with thousands of possibilities.

So how do you make a choice? You must compare search results, as shown in Figure 1, which involves looking at detailed information about each of the main components a holiday comprises: your destination, lodgings, transport, prices, and travel dates and time, as well as extra options like events, excursions, and meals. Booking your lodgings alone requires looking at the different types of accommodations that are available—for example, hotel, bungalow, or campsite—their class, surrounding scenery, amenities, and so on.  You may even be close to a decision when doubts creep in: The pictures of the hotel look nice enough, but you’ve read comments on a review site that complain about the food. The location seems excellent, but isn’t it too close to noisy bars and clubs? You may need to redefine your requirements and do some new searches—again looking at lists of search results and comparing detailed information about selected options. If you’re a so-called maximizer (1), who looks for perfection in every aspect of a holiday package, you’re bound to spend many evenings at your computer without being able to decide.

Figure 1—Complex multi-page clickflow that evaluating just a handful of search results requires

Multi-page clickflow

It makes sense that this type of customer rarely makes a purchase on the first visit to a travel booking site. Marketers can easily overlook this fact, thinking that they can convert every visitor to a customer right away. The facts speak for themselves though. A recent study of online travel transactions in the UK showed that only 10% of visitors booked their reservations during their initial search session. After four weeks, 45% had completed their bookings, with the remaining 45% taking even more time—up to 90 days after their initial search session (2). In this respect, online shopping isn’t different from shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store. People want to look around, compare, get advice, and so on. They often do not decide right away, but come back later and make their bookings.

Booking Travel in a Multi-Page Environment

“The potentially tiresome experience of repeated online searches is worsened by the linear, multi-page user interfaces that most travel sites still offer.”

The potentially tiresome experience of repeated online searches is worsened by the linear, multi-page user interfaces that most travel sites still offer. These user interfaces force customers to follow a predefined, linear path, going straight from a search to a form page for booking. While this may suit the fast bookers who know what they want, it does not suit those who still want to look around.

In a multi-page environment, there are likely to be separate pages for almost every task in the purchasing process, including a search page, a page listing search results, pages displaying detailed information about individual search results, some options pages, pages showing pricing and availability, and booking pages. It’s difficult to make sense out of such dispersed information. When customers are looking at a page showing details about a particular search result, they can’t see the list of search results, making it difficult to compare and rank different results. When they are looking at a list of results they can’t see the search criteria that produced them, making it difficult to adapt their search criteria and come to grips with all the different offerings.

Customers who need to assess a great many search results must visit and revisit a lot of pages. In doing so, they often lose track of the big picture and waste a lot of time clicking back and forth and waiting for the server to deliver pages. They may become disenchanted with an online travel site that seems to punish them for not knowing exactly what they want.

Multi-page travel sites don’t support customers well in searching, evaluating, comparing, or deciding. Frustration might result in customers’ quitting halfway through the purchasing process. Studies show that 60 to 80% of customers leave a Web site after having a poor user experience. In many cases, they never return—for the simple reason that they have gone to a competitor who does a better job of offering what they are looking for.

Booking Travel Using a Single-Page User Interface

“Using a single-page user interface greatly improves the user experience on an online travel booking site. ”

Using a single-page user interface greatly improves the user experience on an online travel booking site. Such a single-page user interface should comprise at least steps 2, 3, and 4 of the purchasing process—searching, evaluating, and deciding. Figure 2 shows a concept for a single-page user interface for a travel booking site. The main functional modules that support these steps are search, search results, detailed views, and a summary showing a customer’s selected options and their prices. Customers should be able to view and use these modules simultaneously. Since the available real estate on a single page is limited and unchanging, displaying all of this requires showing and hiding information and functionality as appropriate. At the beginning of the purchasing process, you allocate more space to the search module; later, to detailed views; and in the end, you may want to focus on a summary view. Modules, therefore, can have various states. For example, after a customer clicks a search result, the list of search results partially collapses to make space for a detailed view, but remains in sight, showing basic information about each result—such as location, name, and price—and allowing comparisons.

Figure 2—Single-page user interface concept for a travel booking site

Travel booking site

Spatial adjacency of all key components makes it easier to search, adapt searches, understand the available offerings, recognize patterns, evaluate and compare options, and make a decision (3). Ajax technology supports real-time connections between these components, so customers can sort or filter search results and immediately see their lists of search results change. As soon as customers add options or upgrade to a higher level of service, they see the effect on their total price. Combining spatial adjacency with immediacy creates very powerful applications. For example, slider-based filtering lets customers easily reduce a list of hundreds of options to a couple of holidays that really match their requirements. Customers can look around and play with different options, giving them much greater control over the purchasing process.

This feeling of control is further increased by a forgiving application that makes it easy to try out a lot of possible combinations while staying on the same page and getting immediate error feedback. The user interface supports your every whim and doesn’t punish you for not knowing what you want.

Once you accept the fact that some customers need time and prefer to come back next week rather than making a purchase right away, user recognition becomes key. Users don’t like having to provide the same information all over again. User recognition should be an integral part of an online travel booking application. The application should use the information in user profiles and retain information about previous trips or searches, updating dates as necessary, but leaving all other information unchanged. Doing all of this decreases the repetition of tedious tasks and enhances the user experience. 

All of these characteristics contribute to the creation of a user interface that doesn’t unnecessarily interrupt customers with error messages or make them wait—in other words, a non-intrusive user interface that lets users focus on their tasks and reach a state of flow, or immersion (4). In such a state, it’s much easier to reach decisions and feel good about them.

Conclusion

“Single-page Web applications are much better at supporting complex user workflows than multi-page Web applications are.”

Single-page Web applications are much better at supporting complex user workflows than multi-page Web applications are. Booking a holiday can become an easy and fun thing to do. And it’s not just customers who benefit. A better user experience can only increase your site’s conversion rate and customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Just having a single-page user interface is not enough, of course, if it’s not well designed. Both a Web application’s overall layout and its controls require special attention, because users may not be familiar with the characteristics and functionality of advanced Web applications. To give just one example, when showing and hiding different parts of a page, it’s important to subtly animate their appearance and disappearance to avoid disorienting users.

Perhaps the most important challenge for designers of single-page Web applications is the tradeoff between flexibility and usability. As an application’s flexibility increases, its usability decreases. The reason for this is its signal-to-noise ratio—that is, the ratio of relevant to irrelevant information on a page. If this ratio is high, an application is more usable. However, a Web application that is very flexible may offer too many possibilities and thus raise the level of noise in the ratio (5). So the challenge is to keep an application page as simple as possible. Packing a page with loads of cool controls is technically possible, but it’s not a good idea. Show only what is relevant to the task at hand and offer other functionality as needed.

References

  1. In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (2004), Barry Schwartz distinguishes two basic personality types when it comes to people making choices. Satisficers settle for something that’s good enough, choosing the first option that more or less meets their needs, whereas maximizers look for the very best choice, scrutinizing all possible options in detail. Even if maximizers make objectively better choices in this way, they’re less happy with them, because they can never be sure they haven’t missed an even more perfect option.
  2. A press release from comScore Media Metrix, Media Contacts, and Yahoo! Search Marketing, on July 25, 2006, reported the study results.
  3. The importance of spatial adjacency is a recurring motif in the works of Edward Tufte—for example, see the conclusion of the chapter “Sparklines: Intense, Simple, Word-Sized Graphics,” in Beautiful Evidence (2006).
  4. Mikail Csikszentmihalyi popularized the concept of immersion, or flow, in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990).
  5. For a description of the flexibility-usability tradeoff and signal-to-noise ratio, see Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design (2003) by Lidwell, Holden, and Butler.

20 Comments

Great article. I agree totally. Improving the user workflow has brought much higher conversion rates and more online direct bookings for our clients.

Great article. There aren’t that many single-page booking sites yet unfortunately. The only ones I could think of (happy user), are: paguna.com and kayak.com.

To Chris and Rob: Thanks for your compliments. It’s true that there aren’t that many single-page user interfaces for booking sites yet, but I guess that will change soon enough. Paguna and Kayak are nice examples indeed; though the user experience on Kayak could be improved even more if they would also bring the booking process within the application. The user workflow is interrupted when users choose a search result from the list and get directed to an airline site, where they have to redo their search.

Great article. I confirm your point of view.

Many of our clients’ Web sites have much higher conversion rates and more online direct bookings since using Ajax during the process.

Great post, but I have a little problem with the “page” term. :)

I think we shouldn’t use it anymore, because the page is a platform-related artifact, and so, we are losing abstraction.

I wrote a mini post about it in my blog to not disturb this one.

It will be great to hear your thoughts about it.

Great article. Although I agree that the Paguna site is a joy to use, there is one very major flaw that is also common in a lot of Ajax Web applications: the lack of addressability; that is, the absence of a unique URL for each state of the application. In the case of Paguna, I cannot bookmark or send specific information to a friend. Addressability is a huge part of the Web user experience, which has never really existed in desktop applications. Google maps, Flickr, etcetera offer it, so I guess it shouldn’t be a problem for others to do the same.

I have to respectfully disagree with the author. Perhaps, in the future, one-screen booking engines may become the norm, but only after a gradual evolution of the current multi-step booking process: from 6 steps down to 5 steps, down to 4 steps, etcetera. The multi-step booking engines are here to stay at least in the foreseeable future. Here is why:

Best practices:

  • The multi-step (4- or 5-step) booking process has become the norm in the industry. For more than 11 years, North Americans have been using this process to book online.
  • All major hotel brands use a multi-step booking process; so do all airline and car rental companies.
  • All of the third-party online intermediaries—Expedia, Travelocity, etcetera—use a multi-step booking process.

Online purchasing habits:

  • Close to 50 million North Americans will make online travel reservations this year. Almost 100% of them will book using a 4- or 5-step booking process.
  • TIA reports that over 40% of U.S. travelers use the Internet exclusively to purchase travel—meaning that people book travel over and over, using the same multi-step booking process, thus further engraving this process into their purchasing patterns.

User friendliness:

  • The multi-step booking process is easier on the eye as it presents the information in installments, one step at a time.
  • The one-screen booking screen is exceptionally busy. The information is presented in one concentrated chunk, requiring extra time and focus on behalf of a user to figure out what is what and where to begin and end.
  • The layout of the one screen is confusing: Do you start at the upper left, go to the right, then move top to bottom, as in the Yahoo model? Do you read the information column after column as it is in your local newspaper?
  • The fonts are too small and difficult to read. Think of senior citizens and baby boomers that all wear at least reading glasses, etcetera.
  • The room descriptions are too skimpy, and you have to scroll down to read more, as opposed to having a page with room descriptions and availability as it is currently on all major brands and intermediaries.
  • Rich media—All of the images are so small and unappealing.

Single property versus multi-property booking engine:

  • All of the comments above are based on a single-property, one-screen booking engine. For a multi-property Web site, the one-screen booking application becomes an even bigger problem. The one screen becomes even busier and more difficult to decipher.
  • The properties are presented with one-inch-height descriptions and photos that do not sell these properties well.

Download speed and Flash blockers:

  • The one-screen booking page is extremely time consuming to download on a 56K dial-up connection. Try it on AOL.
  • The rich Flash image of the one screen is often blocked by pop-up blockers—for example, AOL, the Yahoo! Toolbar, etcetera.
  • Many Fortune 500 companies’ firewalls do not allow Flash Web pages or pages with heavy Flash images to be displayed on the employees’ desktops.

Search engines:

The one screen is built in Flash, is completely invisible to the search engines, and cannot be optimized.

Trust issues:

  • The multi-step booking process allows the hotel to carefully implement trust-building features at the point of sale—for example, Site Security, Privacy Policy, Best Rate Guarantee, etcetera—which definitely influence the decision process, thus boosting the conversion rates.
  • See IHG’s Book with Confidence and imagine it on the very busy single screen.

Web site analytics:

  • All of the Web site analytics applications—WebTrends, Urchin, SteelTorch, etcetera—have difficulty tracking visits and bookings via the one-screen reservation screen.
  • Unfortunately Flash pages cannot be tracked. The former Ian Schrager Hotels learned this the hard way with their Flash site, not knowing for many years how many visitors came to the site, what they did there, etcetera.

Follow the leaders:

  • Marriott, the leader among the major brands in direct online distribution and marketing in hospitality, uses a multi-step reservation process. Currently 85% of all Internet bookings of this brand come via the brand Web site versus 15% via intermediaries.
  • Expedia, the leader of the intermediary channel and the savviest of all travel-related Internet marketers, uses a multi-step reservation process. Expedia’s booking engine is considered the best travel-related booking engine today. Expedia will book over $12 billion worth travel bookings this year via this engine.

Research:

  • As confirmed by the 2004 RUSH Report—a collaborative research study by HeBS, which was based on 40,000 survey participants on 35 brand hotel Web sites—users overwhelmingly like to see a list of available properties with descriptions, photos, availability, and rates for easy comparison, and a list of available room and suite types with descriptions, photos, availability, and rates that is presented in a fashion suitable for easy comparison.
  • Presentation of this information possible is only in a multi-step booking process environment.

Case studies from our client portfolio:

A. Small Hotel Brand:

This hotel brand’s multi-property Web site used a one-screen booking platform. As per our advice, the brand changed the settings as part of a robust Direct Online Distribution Strategy developed by HeBS and made the step-by-step version the default version on the site. This allowed the introduction of easy to read and better descriptions plus photos of the properties and more enhanced room type descriptions and photos. The result was a direct, traceable increase of over 25% of bookings on the site within 3 months, without any major additional or new marketing efforts.

B. Boutique Hotel:

This boutique hotel originally used a one-screen Flash version of the booking engine, which was more beautiful according to owner. Under our influence, the owner switched to a multi-step booking engine, as part of a robust Direct Online Distribution Strategy we developed for the property. The result was that, today, the property generates over 45% of its revenues from its Web site.

Very nice and conclusive thoughts, well written, and I agree with every aspect. Although I fear it will take a couple of years until a mentionable number of big Web sites appear like this. The point is: Many Web designers, HTML coders, and contractors are still unaware of this UI approach, let alone of Ajax, or if they are, they simply don’t have the required time and leisure to try new paths in their daily work routine. Not to mention the effort, and arguable necessity, of relaunching old style sites that yield proper turnover! Besides that, insiders and early adopters tend to overestimate the general public’s acceptance of new technologies at a given time—and this sort of semi-static Web UI with event-driven background communication is completely new—while the majority of decision makers still think the Web works great the way it does today, with the mentioned multi-page orgy. Conclusion: You’re absolutely right about all you say, but this truth will take a lot of time to reach the Web mainstream… :-/

I agree with Max Starkov’s recent posting on the dominance of the multi-page Web sites over single-page designs. And indeed, there is no need—at least for now—to convert all existing multi-page designs to single-page designs, just because of the increasing popularity of Ajax and RIAs that use it heavily. Ajax usage has its own set of problems—like the lack of Back and Forward buttons’ functionality, bookmarking, same domain policy, etcetera… At the same time, moderate usage of Ajax in existing applications can drastically enhance user experience. For example, the mentioned multi-step booking process. Certain parts of it can be redesigned using Ajax to allow querying and the displaying of results on the same page instead of jumping to the next page after clicking a submit button, or reloading the entire page to show the results of a query. The most dangerous part of the multi-page booking application, in my opinion, is the last step of submitting payment. That’s where the inadvertent usage of Back and Forward buttons—or even reloading the page—could result in a double charge. You have to use special safeguards to prevent it from happening. Using Ajax at this stage can help prevent this problem, as refreshing the page will not resubmit a request and the Back and Forward buttons will not work as there is no history stored. Not to mention inline searches, autocompletion features, etcetera… All these small things can greatly enhance user experiences even in multi-page applications, without huge investments and redesign efforts.

Great to see so many interesting and valid contributions to this discussion. I’ll attempt to address some of the issues raised.

  1. Will there be a rapid transition of the majority of travel sites to single-page user interfaces? Probably not, and I didn’t mean to say so. It’s true that we shouldn’t underestimate the gravitational forces of existing conventions and investments that slow down progress. In this respect, I agree with the comments of Max Starkov, Hans-Juergen Philippi, and Dmitri Ilyin. Indeed, whether a new technology will be widely accepted and used depends on lots of things: awareness of its existence and the possibilities if affords, designer experience, user acceptance, user connectivity, business budgets for R&D, training, and so on. I know from personal experience that companies are interested in single-page user interfaces, but they’re reluctant to throw away their current, often quite successful sites overnight. Before going live with new user interfaces, such companies invest in demos, prototypes, usability testing, and so on. This will take some time. Yet I am confident that we will see more examples of single-page user interfaces for booking applications in the near future.
  2. What about the downsides of Ajax? Jean-Francois Petit and some of the other commenters have pointed at the limitations found in some Ajax applications. These limitations have mainly to do with addressability, causing problems regarding statistics, bookmarking, deep-linking, and Back and Forward button behavior. Most of these issues either will be or have already been tackled by developers and providers of Ajax software.
  3. Should we continue to think in terms of single-page versus multi-page user interfaces? Leonardo Vernazza raised this interesting question. I imagine that most users don’t know and don’t care whether a page is being refreshed completely or partially. Although it would be interesting to test this and see how rich user interfaces are affecting cognitive representations of hyperspace. But I believe that Ajax enables new UX concepts and what I described as single-page user interfaces is just one of these. Terms like Ajax and single-page user interface have a technical basis. I would definitely favor a more user-centered name for the concept, but I haven’t found one yet.

Joost Willemsen

Joost, this is a very interesting topic, and you’ve managed to cover a lot of ground in a fairly succinct and cogent manner.

Having recently completed a large Web-based business application that heavily uses asynchronous server-side communication to support real-time interaction, I can attest to the challenges faced in moving away from multi-step, or multi-page, workflows. What you’ve described in your particular example of travel bookings is, obviously, applicable to a wide range of online processes. In some of these processes, a continuous interaction model—like those Ajax and RIAs generally provide—is the most appropriate form for the application.

However, as others have mentioned above, the trade-off between cognitive load and flexibility can still favor the discrete, multi-stage interaction model that is ubiquitous on the Web today. Over time, the ability of interfaces and users to accommodate denser information sets will allow interaction and interface designers to employ continuous interaction models more widely, but I feel there will always be some classes of user behavior that will require these discrete decision steps.

And as for the practical issues surrounding the implementation of continuous interaction models that relate to supporting user behaviors for returning, sharing, and tracking interactions, there are methods available to resolve each of these issues, so I do not see them as being overly relevant as obstacles to take up. Rather, along with issues of usability, findability, addressability, etcetera, I see them as forming part of the solution fabric for any online system.

Once again, thank you for a well-considered look at this new form of online interaction.

Steve Baty

Thanks a lot for your appreciation, Steve. What you describe is very recognizable. As Jakob Nielsen put it in a recent Alertbox article on “Progressive Disclosure,” users want power, embodied in special features and options, but they want simplicity as well. Ideally, a user interface should accommodate both needs. Whether that is possible and how that is done should be decided only after careful consideration of the intended user group and the tasks they need to perform with the user interface. I can only agree with you that there will always be situations in which a multi-step model is preferable to a continuous interaction model. I can also imagine combinations of the two models that could work really well. In his article, Nielsen advises, for example, deferring the personal and payment details to a second page. This decreases complexity of the page and increases its ability to support the search, evaluation, and decision phases of the task. In the conceptual drawing I included in my article, I left the actual booking out of the single-page user interface as well. Even so, for some users and for some screen resolutions, the page might still be too complex or crowded. No one model of user interface can be the perfect solution for all situations. If there ever were such a user interface, I would start looking for another profession right away.

For usability, single-page design can be satisfying for agents, but it can repulse customers. Customers who search for holidays have different inquiries in mind for different offers. Customers search for the best one, and once they find the suitable one, they are ready to start the buying process. While Ajax is loading the pages, they still see other holiday offers and will not focus on buying, because they are still surrounded with other incredible offers. But if they had chosen one and started a 4-5 step process, they would just focus on the decision, which theyjust decided on at the end. Probably the buying process would be completed successfully.

Simplicity is a very critical matter for successful Web GUIs, but if the main aim is to sell something, we need to simplify things in the customers’ minds also. We need to help customers make desicions, not force or rush them. Because too many choices reduce the sales and too many options make customers feel stupid. Too many options make customers click buy button blindness.:) Too much choices make customers suspicious about what they buy.

Maybe single-page designs will be used and customers will focus just on the process.

From the article:

“Studies show that 60 to 80% of customers leave a Web site after having a poor user experience.”

References: #2: “A press release from comScore Media Metrix, Media Contacts, and Yahoo! Search Marketing, on July 25, 2006, reported the study results.”

It would be nice if the author could add this link to the press release to the References section.

Chris, we’ve added a link to the reference. I’d like to mention though that the reference was connected to another phrase in the article: “A recent study of online travel transactions in the UK showed that only 10% of visitors booked their reservations during their initial search session. After four weeks, 45% had completed their bookings, with the remaining 45% taking even more time—up to 90 days after their initial search session”.

Your article is very informative and helped me further.

Thanks, David

Great article. I have two remarks: 1. Shouldn’t “Service” and “Price Range” be part of the search section? I imagine users would want to search by these criteria. 2. I think the design would benefit much from an option allowing users to display two offers side by side.

In June 2006, a friend and I researched, designed, and developed a very early prototype of a booking site for a fictitious resort, as part of an assignment for our studies.

We had only two months, of which we spent most of our time on researching the process a user goes through when deciding what he wants, as well as learning how to use Ajax wisely—progressive enhancement and the like.

The result is at: http://utopia.jeroenmulder.com. (Disclaimer: The code is highly prototype.)

We combined the multi-step approach seen on so many conventional sites with a single-page concept. It’s not perfect and not as complex as the example in this article—the information is much, much more simplistic—but I’ve always felt it’s a nice compromise: the de facto standard along with some of the advantages single-page interfaces can offer.

Is the world ready for a 100% conversion to single-page interfaces? Probably not just yet.

Is it feasible or necessary to convert every current application or Web site you have into a single-page interface? No, but you can start working it in where it makes sense for your site or application and where it can improve the user experience. And going forward, it should be considered where appropriate. Implementation has to be done in a smart fashion just like anything else.

Will there be a learning curve? Yes. For some more than others. For less frequent visitors more so than frequent visitors. For the less Internet-savvy and so on. But it can be done well, where impact and adjustment is minimized.

And let’s not just refer to Flash or Flex as the only technology enabling this sort of interface. There is also Ajax, OpenLaszlo, WPF/E (Silverlight), and probably a couple of other not so well followed ones. Each having its own set of pros and cons.

We need to think about not forcing users down linear paths and the fact that transitions and such can help the experience. And it’s still all about providing the right information, features, and functionality at the right times.

Don’t reject something because we don’t understand it or don’t know how to work with it yet. It’s like anything else, you have to make the decision if the shift is appropriate for your site or application.

Change is the only constant.

Here are a couple more examples of good Ajax-types of interfaces:

I didn’t say perfect or without some issues. I said good examples.

Great article, by the way.

That’s an interesting take, though some prominent thought leaders in software development disagree with the assertion that RIAs are on the rise.

ThoughtWorks

, a quite well-respected organization staffed with personnel who are shaping our field, advise not pursuing an RIA as a technical direction.

I’d also ask: Can you create a good user experience with multiple-page designs? Do one-page designs lead to better usability by default? Does the number of pages really matter if a good UX is delivered?

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