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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Just tell me what button to push

I like this post from Scott Karp on Publishing 2.0 about the need for simplicity in newsroom systems. He quotes a newspaper exec who wanted any new system to be "so seamless, so transparent, so idiot-proof that I can do it without training — and so that it doesn’t add more than a heartbeat to my day."

I know the feeling. I remember the horror at being asked to teach print journalists how to use an overly complicated legacy web CMS. We didn't do it in the end, which is just as well because it would have been a disaster. Making even relatively minor workflow changes in the overly complicated print CMS was hard enough, and for good reason.

Most people don't give a fig how systems work and few want to expend any energy on learning how to do things quicker or work smarter or with more flexibility. 'Just tell me what button to push' is about the size of it. As Kathy Sierra said at Webstock: people don't want to be tool experts, but experts at what they're using the tool for.

This took me a while to accept, to be honest, I guess because I always like learning about a system so I can work more efficiently and flexibly. I assumed others would be happier once they'd learned a few more tricks. I was wrong. Most just wanted one simple way of working and as little variation as possible. You live and learn.

Scott's post goes on to cite a number of successful ventures based on really simple user interfaces - Google, Twitter, YouTube. It's good to be reminded now and then how important it really is to keep it simple, stupid.


Scott said...

Simplicity goes hand in hand for reason or "why should I do this".

Getting your average sub-editor to put in keywords for a story might be difficult if the system is hard - why should they bother? Getting a reporter, on the other hand, to do it might be easier when you say that keywords might make their stories easier to find by the reader (especially if their continued employment depended on their readership).

Making the system easier is necessary period. The developers of one of the earliest spreadsheet programs said that if you needed more than one page for a "cheat sheet" you needed to reprogram the program.

When you see web tools like Flickr or Google Documents (great new way to do collaborative forms in the spreadsheet) you see ease of use and wonder why it isn't done on your software.

If you don't have a good reason why the user should do something then you make it hard too - it'll never get done. Make it easy and it might get done. Give them a reason why they would want to do it (and not you or "the company" want it done) and make it easy - then there's no reason they shouldn't do it.

Julie Starr said...

I couldn't agree more that systems should be easier to use. How long it will take news company IT departments to switch on is another story. Likewise for giving more control to user departments over the systems they use.

I also like your point that people will be more motivated to add keywords, say, or links to related stories if they can see how it helps them rather than the company or their boss. That makes real sense.