Online usability: don’t be a Technorati

I wanted to get Technorati to list my blog in its directory.  You know, in my endless lust for readership.

After 30 minutes of wandering through various registration screens and online help, I then get the following email:

This is an automatically-generated email.

Thank you for submitting your blog claim on Technorati. Technorati will need to verify that you are an author of the site donmaclennan.wordpress.com by looking for a unique code. We have just assigned the claim token EKB27ZJVMJJB to this claim. Please visit http://technorati.com/account/ for more details, including how to use the claim token.

Thank you.

So you’re saying I have to write a blog entry about the code?  OK, here you go.  Are you happy now?

I understand their explanation about being spammed by systems, or whatever the problem is that required all of this verification.  Still, talk about a usability nightmare.  Why can’t I just given them my blog’s URL and let them figure out if it’s legit?

And they’re not alone in having poor usability.

One end of the spectrum is feature bloat.  Lots of capabilities, arranged in a confusing maze of navigation and task completion.  Think of complex installed software, or complex business applications thinking that they got simpler or became more “modern” because someone slapped on a browser for the UI.

Lately, the trend is towards extreme simplicity.  A few big buttons on the screen.  Huge fonts.  Maybe this trend is a reaction to the sins of the past.

The problem with extreme simplicity is that you can’t get much done.  Where are the features and functions?  Won’t I get bored of an application or a site if it doesn’t do much?

Why can’t we get usability right?

I think it all goes back to personas.  My friend Adele Revella has written nicely about buyer personas and practical ways to make and use them.  But as I read the user persona advocates, they seem to get all religious about their mission.  Do it “right” (as in, to great expense and time).  This ends up alienating those vendors’ executives who could make it an investment priority.

How to get practical?  At a minimum, there must be personas for the novice user and the experienced user.  In some cases, a novice mode and expert mode for each of multiple personas.

In my opinion, TurboTax has one of the best UI’s going.  Why?  If you have an uncomplicated tax life, you can navigate the system in a guided fashion in case you’re worried about overlooking something.  Once you’re more comfortable, you can navigate in a self-directed way and save a few steps.  This same metaphor applies to those who have more complicated tax situations such as rental properties, various investment incomes, divorces, etc.

TurboTax seems to me to serve four personas nicely:

1. simple tax life, wanting system-guided experience

2. simple tax life, wanting self-guided experience

3. more complex tax life, wanting system-guided experience

4. more complex tax life, wanting self-guided experience

Us software vendors talk more about using personas than we act.  Why?  Getting really good at usability is damned hard, expensive, and takes years to master.  Who wants to embark on an investment that will take years to pay off?  Other than Apple…oh yeah, look what it’s done for their business.

The case for better UI’s is rooted in vendor fear.  If you’re with a vendor, ask yourself or others in your company: what if our product or website is judged in the first 30 or 60 seconds?  Well, it is.  Users can understand almost instantaneously if a system was designed to delight them as individuals.  If you’re lucky, you won’t have alienated them  and will still have the chance to make other benefits of being a user become apparent in the next few minutes.  Like your price.  Or differentiation.

Vendors amongst us: go start scaring someone in your company.

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One thought on “Online usability: don’t be a Technorati

  1. Love the comment on extreme simplicity.

    10 Years ago I worked in a company that executed on “radical simplicity”. Only easy to use products (without customer training) survived and UI’s were reduced to 4 or 5 klicks deep.

    Unfortunately it killed the company !

    Here the reason why :

    Behind the company’s business model was a huge channel that installed, configured and provided all the customer fullfillment .

    The channel hated the ease of use, their value was gone.

    In other words, usability must take care of an entire value chain. What the company should have done is direct sales model focus on ease of use plus and advanced interface where channel could add it’s knowledge.

    Personally, I believe in layers.

    Layer one , the first impression, what the customer sees the first 35′. Layer 2 the advanced user looking for details. Layer 3 what channel, support, professional services can bring into the product.

    A product that allows the 3 persona’s inside the same UI will be king.

    Cheers
    Bart

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