Case: “Majuscule”

Whenever I’m presented with something I don’t know, I have an almost instinctive habit of looking it up.  It’s not necessarily a bad habit; in fact, several of my coworkers seem to rely upon it.  And I could argue that it’s foolish not to do so with the wealth of the world’s knowledge at my fingertips, but admittedly, it’s just a compulsion of mine.

The other day I was monitoring Reddit, as I have been apt to do since I began my experiment in social media, and I came across a curious NYTimes.com article about the capital “I”. For some linguistic reason that I don’t fully understand, however, they didn’t use the word, “capital.” Instead, they called it, “majuscule.” If you already knew what this word meant without reference, I tip my hat to your vocabulary, because I had no a clue.

As I went to double-click this word to copy it for a dictionary search, something magical happened. Without having to open a separate window, type in a domain name, wait for it to load, paste the word, hit submit, and wait again, a window popped up with the definition of majuscule.

I was awestruck. Had I inadvertently done something clever? No, the page that popped up was still on NYTimes.com. After a bit of searching, I discovered that this was a standard feature of the site. Every time a user double-clicks a word on NYTimes.com, a window pops up with the definition. From the NYTimes.com website:

Point: Intuitive Usability

To say that this is a brilliant example of usability would be a massive understatement. Without being aware that the site offered this functionality, I nonetheless availed myself of it without doing anything out of the ordinary. The site designers saved me precious seconds and left me with a very positive impression by giving me exactly what I wanted, almost before I knew I wanted it.

The take-home lesson is that usability is about making something easier to use. The more intuitive the feature, the more readily and happily users will adopt it. In this case, I didn’t even have to know the feature existed for it to improve my experience. I wanted something, went about my normal routine of getting it, and got it much faster than expected. If this had been a restaurant, I would’ve exclaimed, “Now that’s service!”

The question to ask yourself is, what is my website doing to make my users’ lives easier? Where can I cut out needless steps? What features could stand to be more intuitive?

3 thoughts on “Why NYTimes.com Gets a Majuscule “A” for Usability

  1. I usually get annoyed with their doublclick feature. When I double click on a word, it’s usually to highlight it or to recenter my viewing on a page. The pop up window that comes up just ends up being annoying for this reason.

  2. One man’s treasure, I suppose. I guess there’s no getting it right for everybody. Still, I couldn’t help but be impressed that they catered so well to the exact way I use the site.

  3. I personally love this double-click-to-open-a-dictionary-window feature and I wonder if I can do the same thing, say, when someone double click a word on my blog a new dictionary.com window will open with the word’s usage in it. That would be great!

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