“I drive a car, therefore I can advise car manufacturers on how to design cars.”
“I use the internet, therefore I can advise my web designer on how to design websites.”
One of these things is… very much like the other. Yet, time and time again, I see companies putting people with no user experience (UX) training into situations where they are expected to make revenue-impacting decisions on best practice website design. Often, it’s the new guy. I’d imagine some of these folks think, “I spend a lot of time on heaps of websites, so this can’t be so hard!” and others think “Um, I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I’m new… Should I really tell them I’m not an expert?” Yes, yes you should.
That’s because web usability experts are, well, just that. Experts. They’ve often gone to university to study something like human-computer interaction. They’ve likely run dozens of focus groups. Like most experts, they have spent hundreds of hours researching and doing activities in their field.Your single-person view of how a website should behave is your view only, and it may not be reflected across the thousands of people who will visit your site.
Because web usage is idiosyncratic.**
You know how you try to help your mother figure out how to bookmark her favourite news website because she keeps losing it, and you are getting more and more frustrated because she types the full URL into the Google search box instead of typing it into the address bar and going directly to the site? Your hands are twitching because you want to grab hold of her mouse and just do it for her because she’s doing it all so wrong! Well, she’s not the wrong one: you are.There are no hard and fast rules about how to navigate the internet and use websites. This is one superhighway in which everyone is doing their own thing. And that’s OK. But it does make life harder for marketeers and web designers, who have to struggle to appeal to almost all of the people almost all of the time. So when someone comes to them and says, “I don’t like dropdowns, so let’s not put dropdowns into our new corporate website”, that person is doing more harm than good (unless, by some fluke, almost all that website’s visitors share this person’s opinion about dropdowns).
So, do the smart thing. Hire an expert. And then let them do their jobs. Don’t dictate site design because of personal preference.
Are you interested in learning more about web usability? I promise, the more you learn, the less you will realise you knew about this subject. I recommend Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug as an excellent jumping-off point.
*Unless, of course, you are.
**I’m paraphrasing Steve Krug. I’d include his actual statement from the book, but it looks like I’ve lent it out to someone. Read it yourself, then jump in the comments and correct me!