Usability Isn’t Just for Users

Ezequiel Bruni By Ezequiel Bruni  |  Jan. 08, 2016

A lot of web developers are making me angry. Why? Because they’re literally trying to make it harder for me to build websites. Well, they’re making it harder to use their latest and greatest inventions, in any case.

Take a look at some of these new content management systems for example. Especially take a look at the ones based on Ruby, or Node.js. What’s at least one thing they all have in common? You install almost all of them via the command line. Content management systems are supposed to make building websites easier. I should not have to install them via the command line.

Let’s put this into perspective: the only reason I’ll ever touch a terminal emulator at all is because I got into Linux at the age of 15. Since then, I’ve spent years distro-hopping, learning the ins and outs of various architectures, and loving the idea of the rolling release.

This is what I did instead of socializing. This is what I did instead of basically everything a kid could do at that age. CMS programmers, take note:

If I’d had a normal childhood, I wouldn’t be able to use your software.

Not only that, when it comes down to it, your software will never catch on. Not in a big way.


Why not?

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had programmers tell me about how WordPress is an slow, bloated piece of software. They tell me it doesn’t scale well, that the plethora of plugins is actually a bad thing. It’s too big. It’s too popular. It’s too old.

And indeed, that may all be true, to some extent. Likewise the complaints about jQuery. Talk to a lot of the experts now, and they’ll talk about it like it was the worst thing that ever happened to them. There are other frameworks, now. New, better frameworks that are so much… less like jQuery, I guess?

Then you get the arguments about application platforms compared to plain old regular hosting, and that’s another thing altogether.

But there’s one very little thing about these “older” tools that many people seem to ignore, nowadays. It might seem like an insignificant matter, compared to the beautiful new code that developers are writing now, but it’s important to me: this software gets s*** done!

Once upon a time, people were putting together early content management systems, and giving them away to the world. Some, like Blogger and others before it, restricted you to their servers, their platform. Others gave the code away and expected you to figure out how to install it with little documentation.

Then WordPress came along. They began to market themselves and their “five-minute” installation process. They may not have been the first to do something like this, but man, they did it right.

All of a sudden, your average semi-knowledgeable computer user could install a blogging platform on the host of their choice! Later on, they created, so people with even less experience could experience that PHP and MySQL-based joy.

You see, not everyone who makes a website is a programmer. Lots of us are building our own sites because we don’t have the budget to hire someone. Others are designer-types: good at the front-end, not so great with actual programming.

While efforts to “teach everyone to code” are noble and all that, they’re not realistic. Most of us aren’t going to put in the time and effort required to learn the basic principles of programming because we have other stuff to do. We have other work. We have hobbies.

And hey, remember how I spent my teenage years playing with Linux all the time? Well I have friends now. I don’t want a CMS that requires me to code in half the functionality myself. That’s not what they’re for. They’re supposed to make building websites take less time.

Give me a system that lets me use my knowledge of HTML and CSS to make sites faster. Give me one that does that while leveraging new technologies and embracing new best practices, and I’ll love you. Give me one that works well on disgustingly expert-level, but beautifully engineered, platforms like Heroku with a minimum amount of fuss, and I might marry you. (I said might.)

The point is that your beautiful software isn’t going to go as far as it could if us mid-level users can’t use it. There are people who won’t even touch stuff like SquareSpace, and they want a custom solution for their site. Or they actually need one… and they often come to us.

They might not go to you because you’ll charge them upwards of ten-thousand dollars. Maybe they don’t know enough about computers to know that a “web developer” is a thing. Maybe they just want a really simple site, and the ability to update information once in a while.

You might think newer generations are more technically savvy, but they’re not. They’re better at tapping on interfaces. Ask them how those interfaces are designed and built, and most will give an unconcerned shrug. They’re too busy using them to care.

I believe that the consumer market of website-building will, for a long time yet, be at least half-driven by those of us who know just enough technical stuff to get into trouble. Us, the power users. Us, the professional muddlers.

So write that awesome code that’s been bouncing around your brain. Write the software that takes us into the next decade, or century. But as you build your next big thing, as you engineer your next great platform, and as you architect the future of web technology, please don’t forget about us.


Featured image, software image via Shutterstock.