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'Middle of the night' test

1 November 2004
Dr. Moria Levy
A campfire in the night sky

When designing information and knowledge oriented platforms and interfaces- a main issue is the accessibility of the content. The point is that each one can access the content he or she are seeking… in minimum time and minimum cognitive efforts. A worker who enters the portal aspires to find the required information in a minimal amount of clicks and as fast as possible. A worker who already knows his/her way the system and knows where to find the information spends a lot less time on accessing the desired content than the worker who is not familiar with the system and therefore doesn't know where to find what is required.

When we characterize a portal/website/community/document-management system, we devote much effort in organizing the content so that it appears logical and intuitive to the users and assists them to orientate throughout the sea of information. How do we know if we're on the right track? What can serve as an indicator for optimal orientation? For this purpose exactly, the term 'middle of the night test' was coined; the term refers to the worker's ability to orientate easily even if woken up in the middle of the night and asked 'where is last quarter's sales chart?'. The term should accompany us throughout the entire characterization process and we must ask ourselves if the content organization we chose passes the 'middle of the night test' or not.

Tools that are critical to access (feedback, search engine) receive a special status in this context. We therefore locate them at one of the top corners in order to ensure the optimal application of this principle. We can thus grab them during work without even looking since the location is permanent and familiar.

Use with caution…It is the middle of the night, after all…

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