Home > UX > Wait… Don’t Design for the Advanced User

Wait… Don’t Design for the Advanced User

To often as designers and developers we focus on the sweet, slick features of our apps instead of focusing on who is gonna use they features. Complex, feature rich apps are very powerful tools and are great products, but we can’t keep designing these apps for the advanced users. Advanced users are the low percentage user of any app and they won’t keep your product a float.

Facebook, Gmail, Pandora and many other popular web apps are very complex and deep in features, but one reason why we all use them is not for there complex features but the experience that they have created.

Facebook has a sophisticated email system, a decent notes app, an event planning and invitation tool and a powerful group feature for sharing private info between group members of your choice. But the majority of users don’t use any of these things, a lot pf people don’t even know that Facebook has a grouping feature. The majority of users just use Facebook for its intended purpose, to share their status with their friends and to view their friends status’ (and to play Farmville and MafiaWars of course).

The 80/20 Rule

I call it the 80/20 rule (in general terms). Lets say that the majority of your users make up 80% of your apps demographic, this includes your first time users and your average users. The other 20% of your users are your advanced users, the people who love and use all the features of you app and understand its power.

This is a general rule, obviously these percentages don’t actually represent your users, but its a good visual concept to use as you design and attempt to guess at what your users are doing on your app.

If you think in these vague terms as you figure out what functions and features you will “feature” than you can get a better idea of which ones will best suit the largest amount of users. Facebook does this really well, the status updating widget is located at the top of your home and profile pages where the majority of the users spend their time.

The power of the 80/20 rule is that is forces you to examine what 80% of your users should or are doing. I like to break it down even further and find the three features that the 80 percenters should or are using.

Focusing your design on what the majority of your users will or are doing allows you to re-focus you attention on the user instead of the features. Features are awesome, but kind in mind that the majority of your users will not use all the features, just a few of them all the time.

Create Advanced Users

When you design, assume that every user is NOT an advanced user.

If you are just launching an app for the first time is not a assumption, this is fact, you have no advanced users yet. On a new app, focusing you attention to what 3 features will the 80% use is very crucial because this is where you will teach your users about the app and create an app culture. The purpose of any app is to keep people using the app, if you over whelm your users with a bunch of features from the get go, then you will scare them off and intimidate them.

You can’t teach somebody math by jumping into Linear Algebra, you have to start with the basics functions first, but this can be tricky because you can assume that most you your users are not new to web apps. The best way to teach a user without making them feel dumb is to focus your feature set, this way the user can jump in and start using the app and then when they get brave they can discover the other features as they wish. The design goal for your new app should be centered around creating advanced users not designing for advanced users.

If you are re-designing an existing app that already has a large user base the same rules apply. The most appropriate thing to do though is find out exactly what users are doing in your app. Don’t just assume that all users are using all the features, you may discover that a lot of your regular users, the ones you consider advanced users, are not advanced users at all. They may just be using your app for a few of its main features. I am a regular Gmail user, but I only use it to email, I rarely use it to set up tasks or to manage my calendar.

Keep that in mind as you re-design. The real struggle with re-designing an app that already has a user base is not to disrupt the app culture that had been created. In some cases, you must change the culture if the culture is bad and is the reason why you are re-designing, but most of the time you want to maintain the cultural aspects and user workflow of the app.

The key here is design for both the 80 and the 20. Keep the advanced features available but also provide simple, easy methods for the first time or average user. Remember that you still need to be creating advanced users, just because you already have them doesn’t mean you don’t need more of them.

An App that has Everything

Look, if features where that reason why people did something then why doesn’t somebody just come up with one app that does everything, that allows me to check my email, manage tasks, socialize with my friends, listen to the radio, watch the latest viral video, buy e-books, plan my vacation to Yellowstone and teach me how to fly fish (I know, Google is trying).

The reason we can’t just have one giant app that does everything is because people don’t really care about the features, they care about how they access the features. If an app could really do all these things there would be no user friendly way to access them, unless of course the app could Jedi mind trick you and read your mind.

Besides the Magic 8 Ball, apps can’t read the users mind, so focusing your app on its purpose and designing your app centered around what the user is doing is important to the over all success and usability of the app. People are more likely to use multiple apps that focus on a particular feature then use an app that tries to be all things to all people.

A car is used to carry a few people from place to place, a truck is used to carry lots of stuff from place to place and a bus is used to carry lots of people form place to place. But its not a good idea to combine the three into some multi-functional car-truck-bus that can carry 50 people and 2 tons of lumber at 42 miles per gallon, it just doesn’t make sense. It would be pretty cool though.

The Moral of the Story

Don’t design for the advanced user, design for the creation of advanced users.

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