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Ignoring user skill and designing to usability constants

Now, we've all heard the argument, "our customers don't use computers often, so we need to keep things extremely simple."  We've also had people argue the opposite of that: "these are smart people with a great deal of computing expertise and we need to put the power at their fingertips."

Both of these arguments attempt to use general computing/technology expertise as a way to direct the design of a particular application experience. Now, if we relied on such arguments, we'd almost certainly have poor results. 

  • Just because a person is a computer novice doesn't mean they can't deal with appropriate complexity and adapt to a rich, multivariate, and usable experience.
  • And just because one is an experienced computer user, doesn't mean they want to be treated as an expert right out of the gate in your application.

It is useful to make sure we appreciate this subtlety. This leads to another set of ideas:

  • One can be a "power user" but still be easily founder in a simple application that has poor usability.
  • Conversely, one can be a novice when it comes to general computing but easily develop into an expert within a complex application domain that is highly usable.

In the end, we should still treat all people as reasonably smart and quite adaptable. In this way, I'd treat everybody the same knowing that they are going arrive at their own version of success within my application based on how well I design to good usability principles.