Walking With Closed Eyes

March 26 2013

Occasionally when walking in familiar territory, I close my eyes and see how far I can get without opening my eyes. Usually it’s only about five steps before my equilibrium gets thrown off, and I start walking in an arc. We’ve all been there.

In addition to keeping balance when walking, the all-important balancing game is complicated by the problem of walking in a straight line, which for a sighted person seems impossible without seeing where the next steps should be, especially in unfamiliar territory.

On my way to work, there’s a stretch of parking lot where I’m eager to try my luck skill at walking visionless in a straight line without falling over. The stretch is about 20 – 30 yards long, and at the end there’s a curb. After a few months of trying, I still haven’t been able to get to the curb and step up on it with my eyes closed.

Using an unfamiliar website can be a similar experience for a new visitor. We know how to physically click or tap, we do that all the time, but easily navigating a new app or site without knowing what’s around the next navigation item can give the same sense of confusion as when walking with closed eyes.

If I click this image, how will the browser respond? If I keeping clicking links on the page, going deeper and deeper into the site, will there be an easy way out? Or if there’s not a way out, will I feel safe getting lost?

When creating a new account, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram all ask you to find your friends from other social networks. This isn’t only another way to hook into the cloud, but it’s also a way to make new users feel comfortable by showing friendly faces in a new space.

The sites that handle this problem encourage their users to get lost in the site (many of us have wound up browsing through complete stranger’s photos), or a content first or mobile first approach is used, making the app or site so clear, it’s irrelevant who you see or don’t see smiling happily at you through their avatar.

As for my personal experiment, soon I expect to be able to step on the curb without looking or falling over, but it would be a huge help if my friends and family were standing on the curb, having already accomplished their goal, encouraging me, exclaiming I’m happy to announce, Ryan is on the curb!”