Techies are not Gods
The mechanics of the WWW was of course developed by people who were technically very competent (techies!). Their ability to manipulate the complex and intricate nature of digital information theory (what a mouth full) is the reason why you can read this weblog. But they are not necessary the best people to make decisions on everything to do with your website. If you give them free reign to make decisions on user interface, people stopping by your site might well have an unsatisfying experience.....
Let me expand a little. Most techies have to "get into" the tortuous depths of algorithms and coding, so that they can cajole the machine into doing useful things. When one gets into this labyrinth of loops and objects (left-brain activity), the mind can no longer empathise with the non-technical computer user (right-brain activity). To make your website useable, the design of the user interface (UI) has to be done by someone who can "get into the shoes" of your potential visitors. Be aware, also that the techie needs to be told what you want in terms of the UI - tell them to implement your desire rather than asking if it is possible. That is, challenge the techies to use their skills to give you what you want (it is too easy for a techie to say that something is not possible).
Examples of techie driven website litter cyberspace with their user hostility. Conversely, sites that have been developed with their user in mind tend to shine out like beacons. Entering such a site is like going from a foreign country to one where they understand you. Your experience change from one of confusion and frustration to that of pleasure and understanding. Let me illustrate my point with a some examples:
|"Non-standard" browser (eg. Opera, Firefox)||You do not notice anything amiss. All navigation works.||a. Throws you out unceremoniously with "you need to upgrade
b. The site is one big mess with blocks of text covering up others and drop-down menus that does not work.
|Your screen resolution is not the same as techies'||Ditto above.||Text runs off the edge of the screen with no scroll bars, so you can't see beyond the screen. A bad case I came across was the "next" button to take you to the next part of a form was off the screen and inaccessible, after having filled in previous pages!|
|Obvious and effective search feature||You find what you want easily by using the search/find box.||Some sites still do not have a search feature! And then others hide it away or the most obvious search box is a commercial one giving you addresses of suppliers sites. And a bad one is where it keeps coming back with "nothing found" even when you know it is there somewhere . . . . .|
|Security consciousness||Easily visible [Log Out] link on all pages. There is an unwritten rule that the top-right of the screen is where it should be.||I have come across websites that save sensitive information (like credit card details) where you cannot easily see how to log out. Even worse is a major bookseller site where you can log out only on some of their pages. This is such a dangerous design as they keep your credit card details for easy ordering!|
|Friendly forms||Clears the box when you focus (click on it) so you can just type in your information. You are automatically taken to the next box when it is obvious that your current one is "done"||
- The text already in the box remains as you type in your information,
making you delete their default text. If you do not notice this default
text is still there, wrong information gets entered.
|Website contact information||The email address given in the contact gets pass the techie and to the site owner(s) .||The email address gets you to a person who just fobs you off because as the site techie, he/she does not like to hear of your difficulties and is not willing to pass on your communication.|
I can go on, but the list becomes endless. UK has been worse than the US for these techie driven sites although things are improving gradually. As site owners become more savvy of what is possible to enhance the visitor experience and are demanding a better UI from the techies. There are good books written on good practices in website design. One that comes to mind is Don't Make Me Think! by Steve Krug that is available from Amazon. Probably the best way to a friendly site is to get somebody not involved with it (friend, relative, colleague) to "test drive" your site - and then take their comments very seriously.