Clear Entry Points

Examples: Context:  The artifact is organized as a set of Navigable Spaces; in particular, the artifact itself is large or contains a large amount of content.

Problem:  How does the user know where to start?


Solution:  Provide a small set of well-defined, clearly-named entry points to the network of Navigable Spaces.  If the artifact's purpose is narrowly defined, only one entry point may be needed, but if it will be used in different ways, there should be several entry points, specialized for the various ways in which people will use it.  When a new user starts using the artifact, make sure they see these entry points first, to orient them.  Also make sure that the entry points are easily accessible from anywhere in the network, so a user can return to them (see Go Back to a Safe Place).

One function that the entry points may serve is to give the new user the context they need to understand the whole artifact.  This may involve instructions to the user, helpful tips, setting up a recognizable identity for the whole artifact, etc.

To help provide this necessary context, you might want to use the entry points to sketch out the structure of the network, to give the user an overall idea of how it's organized (see Map of Navigable Spaces).  But don't overdo it; if there are too many entry points, the user may be overwhelmed by the number of choices available to them.  The point is to use a small number that the user can easily understand and remember.

Resulting Context:  (unfinished)

Notes:  This relates directly to some of Alexander's architectural patterns from A Pattern Language:  "Main Gateways" (#53), "Circulation Realms" (#98), "Main Building" (#99), "Family of Entrances" (#102), "Main Entrance" (#110), "Entrance Transition" (#122).

I have found that this pattern is also necessary when browsing large networks of other sorts, such as the network of object relationships in an object-oriented programming environment.  Once you're in the network, you can follow the relationships (the "links") to view objects related to the one you're currently viewing, but you need to start somewhere... One way to gain initial entry into the network is to provide a simple query mechanism, with which a user can specify what subset of objects they want to start browsing with (based on class, name, attribute values, etc.).

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Last modified May 17, 1999

Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell.  All rights reserved.