One of the most difficult things to do when you know something is remember what it was like to not know it. This is of particular importance when you are building websites for for someone other than you. This was brought into clearer focus when I finished reading The Design of Everyday Things, which explained that not only must websites be attractive, but they must also help prevent errors by creative and constructive use of design constraints.
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A common worry among designers, when building a website, is that the many affordances we make for usability limit what the designer can do to make it look good or to make it "cool."
It turns out, though, that those affordances create opportunities for greater creativity and more usable experiences for people other than the designer. As easy (and fun!) as it is to blame designers for being stereotypically stubborn, the problem lies not only with them, but with everyone too familiar with their company and unfamiliar with the power of creative constraints.
Thanks to the book, Made to Stick, I learned that one of the most difficult things to do when you know something is remember what it was like to not know it. This is of particular importance when you are building websites for someone other than you. This was brought into clearer focus when I finished reading The Design of Everyday Things, which explained that not only must websites be attractive, but they must also help prevent errors by creative and constructive use of design constraints.
The usability of a pencil
Certain tools are built with few meaningful constraints, and they require the expertise of the user to put it to good use.
A pencil, for instance, is a simple yet elegant tool. I'm not sure, but I suspect that it is pretty clear after seeing it used one time that the pointy end goes on the paper, and that dragging it across the page with a little pressure makes a mark.
However, a pencil is most useful to people who already know how to write or draw. It has one function with many uses. The quality of the work depends on executing a set of variables among infinite possibilities within the constraints the user deems necessary to achieve a specific end.
The difficulty is that the pencil gives no indication of what those constraints are.
I am a novice illustrator. It's a casual hobby for me that I haven't practiced in many years. Give me a pencil, and the results wouldn't be that striking.
My brother, on the other hand, has been studying and practicing art for decades. A pencil in his hands can be magical, meaningful, or just plain funny.
He's able to use a pencil so well because he is an expert with it. With the same tool, I couldn't accomplish the same thing without years and years of practice.
What you know can kill your site
Obviously, your audience will know how and be able to read (or will have workarounds). But that doesn't mean they know the internal or industry jibberish you sometimes use when you communicate with your associates. So, by design, do not use it, as much as possible. If you must use such nonsense, do your best to explain them clearly.
Put another way, you must constrain your vocabulary intentionally to make sure what you write can be and is likely to be read by your intended audience.
The reason is this -- Except in certain rare cases, your website isn't going to be used by just experts.
Build for your audience, not for yourself
You have to consider the larger audience. Therefore, you have to do more than create a tool (like a pencil) that can be used in one way (your preferred way) out of a million -- You have to ensure it can be used only in the way it was intended, which means designing meaningful and intuitive constraints.
The more complicated the task, the more difficult this is, but in the end, your site should be more like color-by-numbers than a pencil.
To be effective, the constraints must be visible and easy to understand, so that the users can easily predict what can be done and what results they will get.
This will build your users' confidence in your site, and therefore you. Once that confidence is built, your users will understand that it is risky to go to anyone else to buy what you have to sell. Therefore it is important that you implement these principles quickly. Confidence, once lost and found elsewhere, is difficult to regain.
Pencil by Big-E-Mr-G
Drawing table by ArSiSa7
Caricature sketch by Gannon Beck
(used with permission)