Create something beautiful today!
August 13, 2013 in Design
I’m talking about websites specifically here but the same concept relates to all software. What do I mean when I say beautiful? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so how do you quantify it? First of all let me state that I am not talking about aesthetically pleasing here, while the look of a website (or any software) is critical to it’s success that isn’t the beauty to which I’m referring. I’m referring to that beauty that is more than skin deep, that lies under the surface.
Let me start by talking about myself. I’ve been creating software in one form or another since I walked into my first computer class in Grade 11. I was so excited. That’s saying something, I was a good student but school didn’t¬†excite¬†me. It was something I did because it was, well, just what you did. That computer class though, the idea of getting to play with one of these magical machines that were so obviously the way of the future. THAT excited me. The first time I typed¬†run after entering 10 “Rick is cool” 20 goto 10 made me smile from ear to ear. In two simple lines I made that machine DO something. I had created my first program! Since then computers have been part of my life, granted it took nearly 20 years before they became my career (stupid choices of youth to blame) ¬†but they were always there, always in the background. I was always looking for ways to make software do the mundane things I didn’t want to do manually.
That is where this post really begins, notice that last line. “I was always looking for ways to make software do the mundane things I didn’t want to do manually” In other words I wanted the machine to do what I wanted it to. Sounds obvious, isn’t this exactly what computers, and software specifically, is supposed to do? Make our lives easier, more productive and yes even more fun?
But that doesn’t seem to be the focus anymore does it? Particularly in web development, the focus seems to be more what do WE want the user to do? How do we MAKE the user do what WE want them to do? We create huge register and log in buttons, yet we bury the log out button three menus deep. We put bouncing “chat now” buttons at the bottom of our sites, that is of course after it has gracefully slid down the screen in some fancy animation! Did that user really just navigate 3 WHOLE pages of our site without registering for our uber-cool services? They didn’t sign up for our awesome life-altering newsletter? Well we absolutely must rectify that! Let’s throw a nice big bright modal pop-up at them extolling the virtues of our site and services, explaining how they just can’t live without being a member and they’re doing themselves and yes humanity a great disservice by not giving us their email address immediately!!!!
It’s all about metrics, baby!
This attitude bothers me a great deal. It’s been bothering me more and more lately. No one seems interested in creating beautiful software anymore. All that matters is measurable numbers, metrics, conversion rates and fancy graphs we can show potential clients and advertisers. It doesn’t matter if the site is easy to use, nor if it gives the users what they really want, as long as they click things we’re succeeding! You can see this in other parts of the industry too. You ever notice that nearly every piece of software released (particularly games) is released in “Beta” form? The industry seems to forget what the alpha -> beta -> rc scheme was for, it’s all about ship now and fix later. Get it out there because if we don’t someone else will. Doesn’t matter if it actually works, create the hype and ship!!
Maybe my problem is I’m too old school, or maybe just too old in general (that computer class was nearly 30 years ago and it started on Commodore Vic 20′s using cassette tapes as the storage medium). But it makes me sad none-the-less. ¬†The really sad part is truly successful software and websites don’t follow this trend. It’s the millions of wannabes that do it. Think about the truly successful sites, take one example in particular, Tumblr. I am sure you’re all aware that Tumblr recently sold for $1.1 billion. Yes billion. Why was Tumblr that valuable? What made it so popular that Yahoo just had to have them? Tumblr did what the users wanted it to do, in a simple and easy to understand manner. It didn’t inundate them with pop ups, advertising or “chat now” boxes bouncing like a Jack Russel Terrier at the bottom of the screen (if you didn’t get that reference take a minute and check out this video, it should make you smile!¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3q8_40GBuI) They simply gave the users what they wanted. End of story.
What bothers me the most about these trends is, as an industry, we seem to feel our users are stupid, and I’ve heard that comment on more than one occasion. “They don’t know what they want, we need to direct them”. No, no we don’t. Our job is to figure out what they want and deliver it to them. It isn’t to trick them, auto-check boxes for services WE want them to have in the hopes they don’t notice they’re checked (another awesome site you should check out:¬†http://darkpatterns.org/). Users aren’t stupid, in fact they’re a lot more sophisticated than we seem to think they are. How many of you installed pop up blockers the second they were available? I know I did. Pop up blockers became so popular that they’re part of the core of every major browser now. How about Ad-block plus? I’ve had it installed forever. Why? Because I want content, that is my primary purpose for surfing the web and that content does not include bright, animated annoying banner ads.
I watched a great video the other day, in fact this video is what made me realize what had been bothering me about my career that I couldn’t put my finger on. It’s 20 minutes long but well worth it, check it out here:¬†http://vimeo.com/63437853
There is more than enough noise in the world today. Stop worrying about metrics, click through rates and conversion rates. Worry about what your users really need and want. Worry about how you can make their lives easier, more productive or more fun and all those things will take care of themselves. In other words, Create something beautiful today!