The start of my current so-called sabbatical has ended up focusing on user interface. While at the 2008 Adobe MAX conference in San Francisco I attended a couple of sessions on the topic, or on related ones. I’ll post some thoughts and notes from those sessions soon. I also took with me to San Francisco the book Defensive Design for the Web: How to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points, by 37signals. If you’re not familiar with 37signals, you ought to check them out. They’re a Web development company based in Chicago and they’re best known for creating the Ruby on Rails framework. 37signals also wrote a book called Getting Real, which discusses best practices for developing software (which applies to Web sites as well). You can buy the book through their Web site or read it online at their site for free.
Anyway, as a person that develops Web sites for a living (or part of my living, at least), I’m sometimes terribly annoyed when I find a site that doesn’t work or make sense. As a person that likes to think he knows what he’s doing when it comes to Web sites, if I can’t figure out something, I can’t imagine that the less knowledgeable person could. I think getting UI right is hard for people as it can be difficult imagining how others might use the software or site you’ve developed. I’ll provide more specific recommendations on this subject soon, but I wanted to mention this as a recent area of interest now just so you know what to expect in the next couple of weeks in this blog.
One particular idea I’ll throw out here was presented at one of the Adobe MAX sessions I attended. That speaker talked about how you should be “an ambassador for the end user”, which is a nice phrase and a good reminder. He also pointed out that while you’re developing software or a Web site for a client, they often won’t be the ones interfacing with your creation. So as a Web developer, you need to hit the mark between giving the client what they think they want and giving the end user what they really need.