Defensive Design for the Web: How To Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Crisis Points
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Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed SxSW. Learned a lot, met a lot, drank a lot. It was a good time. But, the more I reflect on it, the more I worry about what’s going on in the web/interface design field.
There’s way too much talk about CSS and XHTML and Standards and Accessibility and not enough talk about people. CSS and Standards Compliant Code are just tools — you have to know what to build with these tools. Great, I’m glad your UI doesn’t use tables. So what? Who cares if it still doesn’t let people achieve their goals. Web standards are great, but people’s own standards include getting things done (and that’s still too hard to do online).
UI designers are making the same old fundamental “forgetting about the human being on the other side” mistakes — except this time their code looks better. Humans — not code validators — use interfaces.
There needs to be more talk about people and goals and scenarios and tasks and clear communication and clear function. More talk about what it’s like to be a human clicking and pointing and struggling to make sense of all this “stuff” that web sites think we need to know and interfaces think we need to do. Jeff Veen did a nice job covering some of these concepts in his talk about mental models and user experience, and I’d like to think I introduced new and different ways to approach common UI quandaries with my presentation, but I left the conference looking for more. And not necessarily more presentations, but more conversation in the hallways. All I could hear was CSS CSS CSS.
Shouldn’t sites be getting smaller not bigger? How come everyone keeps wanting to add new sections and new pages when the ones they already have aren’t being read or looked at? It’s not that you don’t have enough content or features, it’s that what you do have isn’t making sense to the humans it’s intended for. Sure, your CMS tool can help you manage up to 1,000,000 pages, and your search engine can scour them in less than 1 second, and you can pick from 100 templates and add a new section to your site in seconds, but how does all of this affect Bob or Susan down the street who are trying to look something up before the pasta water boils over?
Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. Maybe people are talking about it and I can’t hear them. Or maybe I’m right. Or wrong. Or rambling about questions that can’t be answered. I don’t know. I just get a sense that this industry is getting too technical and focusing on the wrong things. I just wanted to write this down. I’ll do more writing about it shortly, but I thought it might be a good time to start a conversation. Spread this far and wide and post your comments here.