During the course of her five years with Jive Professional Services, Carrie Gilbert has guided dozens of Jive customers through the process of defining and implementing their community strategies, drawing on her extensive professional and academic background in interaction design, technical communication, and usability. In this piece, Carrie teamed up with Aaron Johnson , a Jive Engineering VP, to provide some widget layout tips.
Whether you're creating an overview page for your community as a whole or setting up the landing page for an individual group or space, the Jive widget library provides you with a lot of flexibility to put your community's best face forward. This same flexibility could be spun as providing "just enough rope to hang oneself," so to appease the cynics in the crowd, we've provided some general widget layout guidelines. We've also included a few "what not to do"s to help you navigate around potential usability, adoption, and system performance pitfalls.
Keep it simple
Something about widgets brings out the Garbage Pail Kids collector in all of us and we find ourselves wanting to collect one (or more!) of each. A Recent Content here, a Popular Documents there... before you know it, we've assembled three columns of eight widgets a piece, some of which likely show many of the same content links. The result? A sea of blue text that doesn't help your users prioritize one block of information over another, doesn't communicate the value of the community to them, and takes a serious toll on your page load time.
In our Strategy consulting practice, we talk to customers about the four critical components of any widget layout:
- Purpose: Clearly and succinctly explain to new members what this place is and who it's for. This typically happens via a Formatted Text widget, which allows you to communicate your place's value statement both visually and verbally. Group Overview and Space Overview widgets are good options as well.
- Calls to action: Identify the top 3–4 things you want members to do here and provide prominent (ideally graphical) links. This, again, is typically handled as a Formatted Text widget and can often be implemented as part of the same widget in which you are communicating the place's purpose.
- Motivation: Members don't often dive right into participating, so help them understand how the community can help them. Answer their unspoken question, “What's in it for me?” In highly competitive communities or communities that put a high value on member reputation, leader boards (like the Top Participants widget) can be an effective mechanism here. Even better are visible signs of the value other members are already receiving: success stories, win reports, and other first-hand accounts that underscore the community's role in a key business process.
- Example: Would-be participants may initially shy away from actively posting in your community until they feel confident they know what acceptable participation looks like. Help them learn the community's established social norms by readily surfacing other contributions via one of the many content-centric widgets. Time-based widgets like Recent Content and Recent Activity provide the added benefit of showing "signs of life" so members get a sense of relative activity levels.
Less is more
Most Jive widgets allow you to specify the number of items you want displayed. Although the default for most content widgets is 25 items, this can prove to be overwhelming for your members who are trying to quickly scan for something of interest, and can also slow down page load times. Broadly speaking, the primary goal of a widget like Recent Activity or Popular Content is to provide visitors with visibility into the types of interactions common to a given place and the frequency with which they occur (see the "Example" bullet above), and this can be achieved with far fewer than 25 items. So if you have performance or usability concerns about pages in your community that tend toward lengthy content listings, dial your widgets' settings down to a more manageable 7–10 items.
Paint a picture (but not too many)
Over-relying on the dynamically populated widgets in Jive can result in a fairly dry layout with few indicators to members what they should do first or why. To create a more meaningful visual hierarchy, you will want to use at least one Formatted Text or HTML widget, which allow you to create a richer experience through embedded imagery, video, and custom code elements. Some common uses of these widgets include "hero shots" to help define the brand identity for a given community or place, visual calls to action to encourage members to participate, and featured members or content.
There are millions of widget layouts possible within Jive, and probably nearly as many design philosophies governing community managers' use of them.
What approaches have worked well for you? What other design "do"s and "don't"s have you learned along the way?