I was talking with someone at work about a design or information architecture they were being shown for demo purposes, and while they were on the phone with the presenter, one of the first questions they had about the design was, “So, how do I get in?”
Of course, that fell on deaf ears, the response being a silent version of, “What do you mean, how do I get in? Can’t you see it, it’s right there.”
This is a very important point: if someone has to be told how to get in on a public facing website, or there needs to be pages and pages of help text to explain the concept, it’s not going to work. That’s obvious feedback that something is wrong, that it needs to be re-worked to make it usable.
People don’t like to search, they don’t want to have to figure it out, they just want to use it.
Case in point — the iPod Touch.
I bought one. I have a manual for it somewhere, but I don’t know where it is. I just started using the applications and listened to music from the minute I loaded up the iPod. I’m sure there were functions that weren’t so obvious to the initial users, but through trial and error, Apple crafted a kick-ass interface.
Specialized applications or websites, like Photoshop or SharePoint should have a learning curve i.e. people shouldn’t be able to use the applications right out of the box because those are very targeted audiences that demand sophisitication and power. Anyone can open Photoshop, but you have to have design talent to use it well.
However, many of the applications that are along those same lines should follow some of the same design tenets of a Photoshop or SharePoint because it makes it easier to use the program. I started using InDesign minutes after I opened the program because it much of the same functionality as QuarkXpress, for example. Adobe probably got there by placing the application in front of a lot of users and getting a lot of feedback. Never was it suggested to the user that “it’s right there” or “I can’t believe you’re such an idiot for missing that,” but the designers were probably screaming at them behind the two-way mirror that it was, then realized the flaws in the design.
Users in their inexperience are actually very smart at pointing out the flaws in our designs and the difference between a User Experience consultant just getting by and one that’s an expert is recognizing the user is actually the expert, not you.
Do you listen?