Use multimedia thoughtfully, and only when it adds substantial value to your site. Creating multimedia is far more costly and time-consuming than creating static illustrations, so when you're choosing between the two, opt for the most time- and cost-efficient format that will effectively illustrate the point you want to make.
In studies we conducted with teenagers, they were particularly impressed with Web sites that had videos to give them a better perspective on complex concepts. ChannelOne. com had demonstration videos, which teens appreciated because the videos made it easier to visualize the steps and helped them avoid having to read the instructions. For example, the clothing site Wetseal.com promoted its "Stylizer" program by explaining it with a video. Teenage girls felt that having a real person give a testimonial gave the program a personal touch. "[The video] is pretty cool," said one 15-year-old. "I like how it has 'What is a Stylizer?' and it gives you information about it."
Virtual tours on the White House site piqued other people's interest. The videos allowed users to see the White House as if they were walking through it, giving them a more realistic perspective of the layout than still photos could. We could go on and on with good examples, but you get the idea.
A video tour of the White House appealed to many users. Note that in contrast to the virtual house tour on the real estate site on page 369, this tour doesn't require users to figure out how to move between rooms or pan the viewpoint. Instead, you can sit back and let the tour guide point out the items of interest as the camera automatically zooms. (Note: If you have a less famous tour guide, you probably can't get away with a seven-minute video on your site.)
Turn Down the Volume
Sound and animation can be very effective for providing user feedback and illustrating complex concepts. For example, sounds can be used effectively to confirm people's selections or to alert them when they've made an incorrect choice. Animation can help users visualize objects in three dimensions.
Sound and animation are often used simply to attract attention, and occasionally that's appropriate, such as when you want to point out breaking news headlines or something that needs the user's immediate response. However, a site that's peppered with too many blinking and moving elements quickly fatigues its viewers, making it difficult for them to focus on their tasks. Too many sound effectsespecially if they're repetitive and play unexpectedlyare similarly distracting and irritating. Things that chirp and chime appealed to many young children when we tested Web sites with them, but teens and adults found them annoying. People lose patience with intrusive or persistent effects. Audiences may enjoy a few whimsical effects, but once the novelty has worn off, they won't tolerate being hindered by them.
Avoid audio rollovers. It's best to give users control over sound and video playback. Sound is disruptive in work environments (especially if people want to be stealthy about surfing the Web), and teens complain that sound on Web sites compete with other music and media that they're listening to. Sudden loud sounds and music are jarring and disruptive to coworkers in nearby cubicles. If your site has sound, make sure it starts softly and gradually gets louder, and give your users a way to adjust the sound. We've seen people jump out of their seats and cover their ears.
Reserve features that chirp and chime for children. Audiences may enjoy a few whimsical effects, but once the novelty has worn off, they won't tolerate being hindered by them.