I hail from a time when Notepad and Netscape were the development tools used by those interested in attempting to merge their way onto the information highway. Some of you reading this may be smiling right now recalling how exciting it was to publish a custom made homepage filled with all manner of abominations like distracting animated .gif’s, blinking and rotating bullets points, horizontal rules made up of a fuse and bomb exploding again, and again, and again, and my personal favorite; huge rounded 50 pixel radius pill buttons with a hover state that displaced all other content on the screen. To illustrate my point, I’ve adorned my post with abominations of the past for your reading pleasure.
I am grateful that the few aforementioned abominations have, for the most part, gone into hiding but why don’t we see them anymore? I think that the “honeymoon” phase with the Internet is over for most of us. It takes far more to impress with regards to what Internet technology can do for us. Furthermore, I think most of us “use” the Internet rather than “surf” it nowadays. Access to information is so immediate and prevalent that when we do decide to “use” the Internet we want to get in and get out.
I’m definitely not saying that there is nothing cool on the Internet worthy of surfing for, but what I am saying is that people are expecting more from their encounters with it. They expect to get what they want faster and quicker. This means that they are recognizing when progress of achieving their goals is being interrupted. For example, being distracted by a bomb exploding between every paragraph or experiencing vertigo just by glancing at an animated .gif wildly out of control in the sidebar.
People now easily formulate an opinion based solely on the appearance of or their experience with a company’s website. This is goods news for everyone because it means that bad usability practices are being tolerated less. The usability field is still in its infancy and many companies (including the one I work for) have been slow to realize its value. According to Jakob Nielsen we’re making progress in usability with regards to websites at a rate of ~6% per year (over the past decade). However, he does note that at that rate it will take about 74 years to reach acceptable user experience quality. Nielsen, Jakob, “Usability ROI Declining, But Still Strong,” <http://www.useit.com/alertbox/roi.html> ( January 22nd, 2008 ).
Believe it or not there are those that would embrace the resurrection of the animated .gif and gigantic pill buttons but I think they are becoming the minority. Efforts placing more focus on the user experience is becoming increasingly popular and reliable studies proving it has positive bottom line influence on companies are surfacing.
I believe that as technology standards and Internet users’ expectations evolve and access to the Internet becomes ubiquitous (assuming it’s not already) that usability will become paramount and will no longer be considered an “optional investment” that “just takes more time away from development”. Someday user experience designers won’t have to fight upper management to invest in usability but that upper management will have to fight their customers who demand better use experiences.
See what I mean about the horizontal rules?