With the gift-giving holidays comes all manner of gifts that require work before you can start doing the thing you wanted to do in the first place. Assembly, registration, installation - at best it is a momentary detour. At worst it is an infuriating concatenation of failure that leaves you not want the thing you are trying to use.

 

I spent part of Christmas helping relatives navigate the UX pitfalls/failures of setting up new pedometers, using web apps to upload photos to be printed, and getting photos onto a digital picture frame. With each test of patience I came away with one piece of solid UX advice: When in doubt, dumb it down.

 

When in doubt, dumb it down

Generic error messages, vaguely labeled options whose wording doesn't exactly apply to what a user is trying to do, hiding navigation, losing focus with extraneous options, clickable links that are disguised as plain text, inconsistent experiences across different device types - all of these help to reenforce the point that your users aren't mind readers; they don't have the knowledge that you had when you created an experience. The thing that is so obvious to you might not be obvious to them.

 

This is a message I've written about before but it bears repeating: you are designing for users of different ages, backgrounds, varying levels of technically savviness, different amounts of familiarity to the content. etc. You never know exactly who might be using your creation. User experiences should be obvious and easy to follow, lowering the barrier to entry for all potential users. If you are deciding between making something "cool" or painfully obvious, choose the obvious. Make your links look like links, make your labels specific to the content, make navigation items easy to find, etc. Steve Krug has written about this in his book Don't Make Me Think. If you are looking for a beginner crash-course to designing with usability & UX in mind his book is a good start.