Aim for the middle

We’ve designed a lot of user interfaces over the course of our careers, and one theme has been present across them all--a desire to create something that is easy to use for the novice user. Can mom use it, many clients have asked?

This approach may be great for a small company or for a simple website that perhaps users would only access once or twice. But what about mobile or web-based applications where the users do “their work” each day using the application?

Creating a super simplified application with lots of "Wizards" seems to make sense as long as the users remain novice problem solvers for the application. But, what happens when they are no longer novices?

There is plenty of research that shows that there are fundamental differences in the manner by which novices and experts approach a problem. Once someone has “mastered” the cognitive workflow required to perform their assigned task, they move on to a more experienced user approach, or an advanced mental protocol. Forcing these users to muddle past a screen-by-screen flow of wizards and other similar simplifications can only lead to a less than optimal user experience for them.

Designing an expert interface may be easy. Give expert problem solver's a command line, let them enter SQL code directly, or access to more detailed options.

Not every novice user, however, evolves into an expert user. Most, in fact, become and remain intermediate users. They learn to interact with the application in a manner that best suits their “middle of the road” understanding of the application workflow.

That is why we say, “Aim for the middle.” Design your user interface to meet the needs of an intermediate user, your largest user population, while also providing some embedded assistance (to help the novices). perhaps some keyboard (or other) shortcuts and other advanced features to appease your experts.

The Usability People would welcome the opportunity to work with you on improving the Usability of your app or site.
The Usability People
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