Design Critique: (desktop version)

The digital interface I chose is the website (RYM), which I have been using since high school to discover new music and keep track of the records I have listened to. It allows you to rate albums, singles, and individual tracks, make lists, write reviews, and browse the vast database of records it hosts.

To test my faith in it I first did a cognitive walkthrough with this as the correct action sequence to find find information about Miles Davis’s 1969 album In a Silent Way:

  1. Click “genres.”
  2. Click “Jazz.”
  3. Click “Miles Davis.”
  4. Click “In a Silent Way.”

The “genres” link is immediately at the top in a floating menu bar along with other links to other charts and lists. While there is a hover function on the “genres” link, a user may still perceive it as clickable as the text is not blue, while all the subsequent links in the next 3 steps are blue. This is something that Don Norman may describe as “lizard brain,” wherein a user is impressionable to their immediate surroundings and will process things based on visceral triggers. Seeing blue text is a signifier to this lizard brain and drives the user to click on them, so using blue embedded links but not incorporating them consistently may mislead the user.

There is also some text on the homepage that is blue but not clickable, but it is a different shade of blue, more like a teal. This design choice is very slight and perhaps effective given that I have never misconstrued it as clickable, though more user testing would be needed to prove otherwise. Approaching this factor in good faith, RYM may seem to understand the cultural constraint of blue links and play upon that by including text that is just different enough to deter the user from clicking.

On the next page there is a scrollable list of genres with relevant descriptions and links to subgenres, with “Jazz” appearing 11th in the list. On the page for “Jazz,” the link to “Miles Davis” is accessible in two ways: either as part of the side-scrolling list of top-ranked Jazz albums, underneath the album title Kind of Blue, or within the text description for Jazz after you click “Read more.” Both of these links are blue and have a hover function, but are not immediately obvious as there is no list of artists that would include Miles Davis, just the genre description and the top albums.

While in some ways this is a flaw, it is in keeping with RYM’s emphasis on cataloging records, so the decision to exclude an artists list and incorporate it into the albums list was most likely intentional. This affects the user’s conceptual model of the site: if they go in expecting an emphasis on artists and do not find it, they will be made to adjust their image of “rating music” on RYM, how to navigate the site, and what to seek out (being records, largely). This is in line with Norman’s definition of the conceptual model as something of a global village, wherein a coherent image actually consists in parts spread out across potentially vast distances (26). Like I said, RYM must want to keep its community focused on the works themselves rather than diluting it with fandom over specific artists. The site is mildly choosing about what affordances it permits the user, allowing them to form a relationship with the interface by stipulating what actions they may take. 

Finally, once we have accessed the artist page there is a bit of an information overload with a biographical section, a notes section, a pseudonyms section, and a genres section. Right under is the discography, in which the entries are scaled to fit 14 albums at a time, with In a Silent Way being 15th. The pages on RYM get more and more detailed as one navigates through, so while it may be overwhelming to a new user, they are still trained to know what they are looking for once they get to step 4. In my opinion, this enhances the discoverability of the UX as well as the conceptual model: the user will construct a mental picture of the site as one of increasing complexity as they navigate more and more, encouraging them to dig deeper as they please and see what more actions they may take.