The Low-Hanging Fruit

Ceppas Cristiana's The Tree

Hearing childhood teenage professional hero Andy Budd speak at #lwsux last month confirmed many things that I already knew, and introduced me to even more things that I needed to be more aware of (read my full write-up).

The one thing that really got me was talking about the “low-hanging fruit”. It’s a pretty simple concept, as a consultant, much of the benefit you will bring to an organisation, in improving a system’s design, will be painfully obvious.

Take, for example, a client of mine. An old system based on 2003 technology, with even more prehistoric standards support. It used javascript everywhere, all links opened in new windows (complete with navigation) and whilst there were templates, from a programmers perspective, there may as well not have been.

So, how to make it better instantly? Update the system to use templates, stop links appearing in new windows, make it work cross-browser and replace as much of the javascript with “server-side” code as possible. That’s before you get to the simple layout changes that you can make. Spending a bit of time on the information architecture improves the flow of information and user journeys. The system hasn’t changed much, but it’s infinitely more usable and user-friendly. The client almost had a “crisis” when I showed it working on my iPad.

What’s the lesson here? Take the easy usability problems and solve them with best practices. ┬áTest as you go, there’s no need for large-scale user testing unless there’s a specific problem that you’ve been asked to solve. The simple solutions to simple problems solve most of the issues of user-friendliness within a system, and a good bit of IA generally does the rest.

So, take the easy option!

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Steve Workman

Steve Workman is the Head of Web Engineering at Yell. He is also an organiser for London Web Standards is an occasional public speaker, talking about web performance and web standards

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