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The Secret to Great Usability

January 27, 2009 — By Dr. Pete

One of the side-effects of taking too many philosophy classes in college is that I sometimes like to think about big questions like: "What is usability, really?" or "Who would win in a fight: The Enterprise or the Swine Trek from Pigs in Space?" I'm not sure I can adequately answer either question, but if I had to take website usability and compact it into one piece of advice, it would go something like this:

The world does not revolve around you.

Right now, you're probably pretending to shake your head in agreement while your Id crosses its fingers (a little joke for all you Freudians). If you're like me, you think that rule applies to everyone except you, so let's take a look at the facts:

1. Scientific Evidence

In the early 16th century, Copernicus theorized that the Earth was not the center of the universe. It would later by demonstrated that the Earth revolves around the sun. I think it's safe to assume that you are not the sun. Of course, if you were in the center of the sun, than the world would, practically speaking, revolve around you. Unfortunately, the temperature there is at least 30,000,000°F, so your egotistical coup would be short-lived.

2. Logical Deduction

The core problem with thinking that the world revolves around you is that a few million other people think that, too. Logically speaking, this just doesn't work. Imagine if the Earth orbited even three people simultaneously. It might look something like this:

Now, I'm no astrophysicist, but if the Earth's orbit looked like a triangle, we'd probably all live in pyramids and have pointy heads. Instead, we live on cul-de-sacs and eat donuts. Therefore, the earth's orbit is clearly circular.

But I'm Not That Guy (or Gal)!

You may be thinking: "Hey, I'm not that guy! I don't think the world revolves around me." Let's try a little quiz. Have you ever said one of the following:

  • "I've been in this business for 20 years. I know what works!"
  • "I know what my customers want."
  • "My customers are regular folk, just like me!"

Sorry, but if you answered "Yes" to any of the above, you may be that guy (or gal). When building a site for your customers, there's no place for ego, especially during touch economic times. Stop assuming you know what people want, and start listening, asking, and testing. Do that, and you'll be well on your way to building a site that's a pleasure to use and buy from.