Wednesday, May 30, 2018

It got so easy it got hard. (Gayle Wellborn)

Gayle Wellborn was simply a former exec I worked with at one time. Unlike a lot of execs, though, she seemed to really get usability. For some reason, it was just very easy for her to identify with the user. I’ve never met another exec – with their MBAs, or technical backgrounds, or bean counter creds – who was able to accomplish that so easily.

This particular comment came out at some review, and though we all kind of laughed at it at the time, I found that the more I thought of it, the more I became aware that she had really put her finger on a very important principle of design.

Now, most tech I deal with has just the opposite problem. It’s just too darn complicated. Sometimes, though, a design team has learned that lesson, and has gone just a little overboard in the opposite direction.

In particular, I find that this is an issue with graphic designers. Often, they want a nice, clean, aesthetically pleasing interface. And, sometimes, to get that, they might throw away some parts of the UI that were actually pretty central for the user to understand what exactly was going on. So, though the UI might look super simple on the surface, it actually makes the user’s job a little harder, forcing them to guess what some things might mean, or how to do something, or what to do next … when we could have made it so much more easy for them.

I see this a lot, in particular, with mobile. Now, I realize we’ve got a lot less real estate to work with, and the last thing we want to do is make it cluttered. But just thinking back to the struggles my users have with hamburger menus, or kebabs, or the tiny little dots that signal a carousel … 

And it’s not a matter so much of simply deleting affordances. There are also features that don’t appear until you mouse over them, using one feature to do multiple tasks, an over-reliance on icons (and a subsequent aversion to labels), gestures … 

But how can you tell when it’s so easy it’s hard? Well, one thing is to keep your target audience in mind (and realize, of course that they will be different from you). Personas are great for this. Second, test it out. See what’s hard, what’s missing, what needs a little boost – and then fix it. 

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