Using


I’m a user. The web is like crack to me; I crave it and am tethered to my favorites, my Firefox tabs, my smartphone links.

And I’m betting you are too.

Then again, there are times when it infuriates me, puts me off. Not the techno-troubles, though those do make me crazy, but sites that are too busy, too cluttered, too long a-loading, too poorly organized to make things easy to find.

We use the web constantly, yet only half understand what lures us, attracts; keeps us coming back to certain sites.

Is it the content? New York Times lovers, raise your hands.

Is it the interaction? Facebook addicts, own up.

Is it the design? Well, there’s the rub. Design may not initially or ultimately attract someone to use a particular site, but if done poorly, it certainly can repel a user.

I am writing this blog about the usability of web sites because it seems compelling to try and piece together ideas about what works and what doesn’t. What makes HuffPost more than just an aggregator of opinions, news and gossip? What makes Pandora worth keeping in an open Firefox tab, what besides the music works in that site’s design? I would like to use this space to try and put my finger on some of the truest, most useful principles for making a site user-friendly. These may start with the kinds of ideas found at usability.gov, but can lead, I hope, to more nuanced insights.

Full disclosure: I have only had one graduate course on user-centered design; work for a newspaper that struggles to continually reinvent its online design; and don’t explore the web as fully as I might because I have other passions, like music and and fitness and all the day-to-day preoccupations of any 50-something single woman. I have a rudimentary web site for my original music that I built as part of one of these graduate courses; the site is already out of date, and I may never have the patience to update and invigorate it. Or will I?

I would like to know more, understand more, about the field of usability and the studies done to present raw data about existing sites to clients. I would like to take expert Dan Brown’s insights, and others’, and see if I can’t add my own. (More about him in subsequent posts.)

This takes me back to that word: Use. Use is defined by Merriam Webster’s hardbound Deluxe Dictionary, 10th Collegiate Edition, as:

1. the act or practice of employing something

2. habit or custom

3. the privilege or benefit of employing something

4. a particular service or end

As I said in my bio, I long not just to be good at something, but to be good for something: to be useful. Finding new insights to web site usability can only enhance our collective understanding of what we talk about when we talk about our love of web sites.

If you love or hate a web site, any web site, I want to know about it. Let’s explore together what is most worth our while, and figure out why it’s so.

2 thoughts on “Using

  1. rdkalm

    Okay where did she go wrong?

    The piece starts out close to perfect by defining her niche. User doesn’t tell us she’s going to write about usability – she asks us if we are interested in the same subtle, missing piece of information that she is. We totally are.

    Again, she defines her niche. She defines an absence of knowledge that she is going to go after. Why does Pandora remain on the mountaintop with all these other apps trying to knock it off? I don’t know and I’m hooked.

    After reading the thesis lecture this week, the A, B, C, D matter hit home with enough of you that some people rightly brought up expertise. It may be more engaging to read something fresh, but you want to hear about medicine from an experienced doctor, right? That’s true, but there are also a lot of medical writers out there who should never be let near a scalpel. You want to trust that the writer knows what he or she is talking about – that they did their research, that they interviewed experienced and articulate doctors. That’s all.

    In both cases for User, whether she chooses songwriting or usability, I will come to trust her as she shares her research, and her writing will be engaging because she has some place to go. She’s going to discover for me. She’s not Joni Mitchell yet, but she has a compelling bio. And she’s defined a gaping hole in my knowledge about usability. I’m ready for either trip.

    So where did she go wrong here? Full disclosure. She’s still not convinced about usability, so she backtracks after that great opening. I’ve only taken one course. My website isn’t that good. The minute she does, I start looking at my ticket and wondering if I really want to go.

    In the opening she admits she is interested in this subject and is about to start investigating. I know she’s no expert yet, but she writes so well, I don’t care. I know she will be.

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