Why No One is Using Your Application or Website

cartoonapp.jpg

Jakob Nielsen, a longtime authority on web usability published an interesting piece this morning entitled Bridging the DesignerUser Gap. While Nielsen is more thoughtful and persuasive in his argument, the cartoon above (from It’s Just a Bunch of Stuff that Happens) neatly summarizes the piece: simplify.

Nielsen tackles problems that lead to exactly the sort of failures outlined in the cartoon, including recognizing not just the gap between the designer and the intended audience, but how big that gap is.

Most of the software and tools that we love here at Compiler fall into Nielsen’s first category where the designer is the user – open source tools that power most of website’s we all love (though a considerable number of those sites probably fall in this category as well).

As Nielsen puts it:

 

More commonly, designers at this level are core members of the larger target audience. Open software often falls into this category: designed by geeks, for geeks. That’s why Linux, Apache, Perl, and many similar products have been so successful – at least as long as the audience remains a group of technology-obsessed users. Of course, these same products don’t stand a chance of growing their user base to include ordinary humans.

At first glance that last line is quite inflammatory, but it’s also true more often than not. And it goes a long way to explaining the popularity of Ubuntu (I would argue the most usable Linux distro) or why newcomers almost always grok Gnome much faster than KDE.

I don’t think Apache or Perl are particularly interested in making themselves easy for your mom to use, but when you spend all your time working with things as complex as Apache or Perl, sometimes you forget ordinary people and end up with overly complex software.

As it turns out, the average person doesn’t really care that iPhone apps can’t run background processes, so long as the iPhone remains simple and easy to use, which is what drew them to the product in the first place.

In a way it’s the same message that Nielsen’s been preaching for years. If you’re looking to compete with the web’s more popular sites, keep in mind the beauty of simplicity.