The Value of Digital Simplicity

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently looking at Web site messaging and usability, spurred on by Steve Krug’s book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy, which provides terrific insight into DIY usability problem solving.

When you read about usability, it makes complete sense: the easier it is to do something, the more likely that someone will actually do it. That something could be making a purchase, completing a form, reading content or watching a video.

But the strange and fascinating thing is how difficult and challenging many companies make their Web sites. All the work that happens behind the scenes goes unfulfilled because the product isn’t accessible or user-friendly. The big question is: why? How does a good idea get developed but fail to take into account the end user’s ability to use them? As the famous usability expert Winston Churchill said: “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.

My thesis is the people who develop Web sites don’t spend enough time getting perspective from the outside world. Many Web sites are built in a bubble, which means little or no feedback – constructive or otherwise – is allowed to seep in. And if there are alpha or beta users involved, many of them are friends or family, who are biased to provide positive feedback rather than the blunt truth. As a result, many Web sites have serious usability issues that could easily be resolved if there was real real-world testing.

The challenge is that getting people who build Web sites and online services are often reluctant to open the kimono before everything is ready for public consumption. There is a fear of competition or someone stealing their idea, or an unwillingness to launch something that is half-baked, which could attract criticism.

The reality, however, is if you want a user-friendly, accessible and intuitive Web site or online service, it’s better to get external perspective sooner rather than later. Some of the things that an outside might pick off immediately as a problem or issue could easily be missed by the people building the Web site or service because they’re so close to the fire, they lack any perspective.

While no one wants to be told their idea or Web site sucks, it’s better to get a hard dose of reality than launch something that fails to resonate – not because the service isn’t valuable or compelling but due to the fact the design, messaging and structure makes it difficult, if not impossible, for users to “get” what they’re supposed to do. If that happens, it’s lights out pretty quickly.

More: Another good read within this topic is Mark MacLeod’s blog post on clarity of vision.

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