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Experience or Content?

Once I realized that there was a lot of intelligence behind what makes a website work well, that it was a hell of a lot more than just “make it look cool,” it became something I wanted to learn more about and keep learning. Partly this is in answer to my frustrations as a web user—things were too complicated, choices unclear, things don’t work how you expect them to. Most of us have had this experience. I wanted to understand how to design to avoid these usability problems.

In the current state of web site and application design, there’s a million big ideas of what services to offer web users. The edge is no longer what you offer as a web publisher but how you offer it.

Is experience is more important than content?

Probably not, but in some sense it’s true. If you don’t have content you don’t have anything, but if you don’t offer a good user experience, your content has less value for the users. If it is difficult or unclear to your web users how to access your content or make use of your web-based services, you won’t have users for long. People just don’t have the time to waste using a poorly-designed website anymore, and nowadays there are plenty of examples of excellent user experience design. Users know and appreciate the difference.

That user experience could be more important than content is demonstrated by many websites that offer a fairly limited range of services but are handily out-competing websites with a broader range of similar services because their services and information are easier and more fun to access. People want to enjoy their experience of using a website, but more precisely they want to feel that they are competent and able to do what they came to a website to do. Websites and applications that give people the ability to easily do things that would be very difficult otherwise are tremendously popular.

This is important even if your content is totally unique. Yes, your website may be the only place they can find your work, but if you think no-one is doing anything like what you are doing, you haven’t been on the Web for long. The Web is nothing if not broad, so assume you have competition out there. Designing for user experience is perhaps your best way of getting an edge in that environment. It is also time-consuming to get right, and can seem unimportant and so the temptation is to do without.

As a content provider, most people think that what they have to say is much more important than how. And that is understandable, because a lot of hard work and experience went into developing that content. And of course, people want their content to be presented beautifully, and with a style that expresses them and what they have to offer. But is is becoming clear that usability is more important to users than aesthetics. Yes, in a good design they are inseparable, but an aesthetic yet poorly usable design is not going to work in the long run. Once people get over that “wow, that’s beautiful!” stage, they want to use the website.

This doesn’t mean a website should be visually dull and lack a character that expresses the “heart” of the site’s intentions. Absolutely not! It is, however, necessary to put some serious thought and time into getting both the aesthetics and usability right and working together to support the content.

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