Wwwwhy Designs Fail March 18, 2009Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership, Random Musings.
Tags: Interfaces, Irritants, Users
Here’s a simple test: pick a web site, any web site. Try typing the URL the old-fashioned way, with “www” in front. Did it work? Most certainly. Now try it again, with just “ww,” “w,” or even “wwww.” Did any of those work? I’ll give you even money one or more of them failed.
Why? People mistype this stuff all the time! Don’t you think that some considerate, thoughtful systems administrator would have taken the time to create the “near miss” versions of his web site, just to make it easier on the users? You’d think that, but they certainly didn’t. And hundreds, maybe thousands of users feel the effects of one unthinking person.
This isn’t about poor web site name management. The real issue here is that too many developers don’t take the time to figure out where users might make mistakes so that they can program around them. The goal of any system is to make it as easy as possible for the user, and that includes silently detecting and correcting mistakes wherever possible.
Much like interfaces that force users to perform mundane tasks better left to the computer (like insisting on perfectly formatted credit card numbers) mistake-intolerant tools force the user to do more work for no good reason. By definition, humans make errors. When dealing with other people, we silently recognize and correct minor errors all the time. People are really good at figuring out intent based on context and ignoring minor faux pas. Computers aren’t naturally good at this, which is why developers need to consider all sorts of potential errors that might occur in their systems. Wherever possible, they need to accept the error, anticiapte the intent, and move forward.
This kind of design error is not limited to software systems. It extends to leadership as well. Too many leaders insist on “correct” behavior from their team, expecting behavior that exactly matches what they might do when presented with a task. Good leaders allow for creativity and understand that there are many paths to the goal. Tolerating multiple paths that reach the same goal is a sign of a confident leader.
This isn’t to say that it’s OK to miss the goal. It’s not, and failure needs to be addressed. But are you allowing your people the latitude to take routes you didn’t anticipate and still reach the goal? Like a system that gauges intent and still delivers the desired result, strong leadership encourages creativity that will find other paths. In the best scenarios, your people will find a way that is better than yours, and even in the worst case, you can use the less-optimal paths as teachable moments to improve your team’s performance in the future.