Friday, October 17, 2008

Are IT departments and web professionals their own worse enemies?

Forbes magazine has asked whether IT departments are their own worst enemies, in an article, The un-marketing of IT, citing examples such as,

  • Promoting e-mail use but limiting inbox storage and file attachment sizes.
  • Touting the Internet as a data goldmine, then blocking people from visiting so-called non-business sites.
  • Providing people with a PC as a tool to make their job easier, then locking it down to stop them adding programs or even choosing their own wallpaper.
  • Warning people of the dire consequences of not using an application properly, threatening them with legal action every time they use the application or start their PC.
I've seen IT teams engage in this type of behaviour time and time again over my career and the usual outcome is to reduce the business's trust and respect for IT practitioners - not because these actions are necessarily wrong, but simply because they are not explained well to business users.

As the article suggests, if IT teams committed to explaining clearly to users why these types of actions were necessary and provided alternate ways to meet business needs it would be easier to build bridges in other areas.

Extending this to web design and development, I've experienced many websites where unusual navigation or rigid processes are used to move users through a web service to their desired outcome.

These situations meet business requirements and allow the user to achieve their outcome, but are often painful and offputting journeys, which do not lead to repeat usage or goodwill.

Often the user feels like they have survived an obstacle course rather than had a pleasant walk in the sun.

When developing websites (or applications) it is as important to consider the journey - the user experience - as it is to consider the destination.

Simply adding contextual support, removing unnecessary steps and modelling navigation on well-understood models can do wonders to smooth the user's journey and vastly improve the user experience.

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