Design for the Novice, Configure for the Pro

Source: Both Sides of the Table, Nov 2010

Even in 2010 I think most companies err too much on the side of complexity.  They try to strike the right balance between making the base product “useful enough” for the “average” user.  I think the novice needs to be able to walk right in the door and be able to start playing around with your product – without a manual.  More difficult still, you need to be able to accomodate the “light” user who comes by once / month and barely remembers the application when the log in.

In summary, 2 quick rules:

  • Do usability testing.  Watch people use your product with little or no instructions.  Give them tasks to complete without instructions of how to complete the tasks.  Film them.  Learn from them.  Many companies do this these days – not all do.  You MUST.  It is so instructive.  It will blow your mind away how people use products differently than you’d intend them to.  You’ll pull your hair out.  And in the end I’m quite sure that you’ll simplify things – not add things.
  • Design for the novice.  Configure fo the pro.  The pro will always find the advanced options.  This is easier said than done.  It’s always harder to build simple, yet usable products.  You become more defined as much by what you left out or simplified as by what you put in.
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