Three things that headings do…
This isn’t a link to an article elsewhere… I just thought I’d post this thought, which won’t be news to many people here, but I’ve found it useful when discussing principles of design and effective communication to be explicit about these points.
1) A heading communicates the start of a new section. This assumes the heading is reasonably well designed. It means that a reader can scan a page and pick out the sections.
2) A heading communicates hierarchy. Sub-headings will typically be in a small font size, or not bold etc. Again, it needs to be easy to pick out when scanning.
3) A heading communicates semantic information about the content. This assumes that someone gives some thought to the wording of the heading, and succinctly describes what the content actually is about, rather than just using the heading to fulfil the first two functions.
My wife and I arrived late and tired at the Intercontinental Hotel at the O2 London. We looked for the carpark. There was a sign to the ballroom carpark, but we weren’t going to the ballroom. After driving around for a while, we realised that the sign actually mean ‘Ballroom AND carpark’.
To get into the carpark we drove up or down a ramp (I was tired). There was a big sign to reception, but there was also a small laminated sign on the door saying that to get to reception we had to head for the ticket machines on the ground floor. We didn’t know if that was up or down the stairs. If the sign had simply said ‘go down to the ground floor’ we would have known. This was indoors, no windows.
After checking in we got into the lift, pressed a button to the sixth floor, and the lift went to the tenth floor and stopped. We pressed the emergency button, and nothing happened. Then my wife saw the sign (only in English, I think) that you had to wave your keycard at the sensor to make it work for you. The lift is designed to trap people who don’t notice the sign, can’t read it, or who don’t have a keycard.
As with designing digital experiences, a little more thought here to understand the context of users, and the positioning and wording of messages would have made the start of our stay a lot smoother.