Welcome

I guess it's appropriate for my first posting to talk about the subject of confidence. If, like me, you aren't a natural programmer you need a lot of confidence when trying to code up a site.

Many times over the years I have banged my head against a keyboard because some bit of the website I am building refuses to fall into line. Even though I have stared at the code until my eyes water or clicked through pages of Google listings trying to find the answer. Usually it is can be traced back to my lack of confidence in what I have been doing.

When something goes wrong my immediate reaction is "bugger, I've coded up something wrong" followed by hours of tweaking and pleading and retracing steps in the face of some grinning gremlin which has decided to plonk its fat bottom on the path to completion. And then I find that I hadn't turned some feature on. Simple as that.

When you have confidence you can sit back and think, "Hang on. This code is lying to me. Of course it should work, there must be something else wrong. Have I actually turned this feature on?" Of course, the sharp eyed amongst you will immediately spot that confidence is closely allied to experience. I know from past experience that if I tweak this code *something* should happen even if it collapses in a heap surrounded by a swirl of dust. Then, with suspicions aroused, I'm likely to pick up a torch and go down to the basement to see if the thing is actually switched on or not.

So confidence is best mates with experience. But experience costs time. You have to put in the hours to gain experience. There's no getting away from it. And here I have to raise my hat to the heros and heroines of help forums who, on many an occasion over the years, have patiently answered my questions ("have you tried switching it on?") when if I hadn't become so stressed and frustrated in the face of the immovable gremlin, I could have easily worked it out myself.

Which is why I came to specialise in information architecture and user experience. How many times have you tried to locate a piece of information only to be send round a revolving door of different pages? How often have you tried to follow a step by step process only to fall down some trapdoor because the writer thought it "was obvious" that you go round it? How many hours have you spent staring at a list of options on the page only to discover that the one you want was labelled by some hermit techie who hasn't actually strung a sentence together to a real user and has probably lost the power of speech let alone try and create a navigation system that can be understood by the other 99.99% of the population who doesn't have a bookshelf crammed with O'Reilly titles.

Even though it is nearly 20 years since Tim Berners Lee kicked off the world wide web he great majority of people are still wary of the internet because they might do "something wrong". Even those who work in IT or who have never known a world without Google approach many everyday jobs like *buying something* as some electronic version of snakes and ladders which is as likely to send you back to the beginning as let you actually finish the transaction. The result? The visitor is made to feel like an idiot and loses confidence in the whole process of buying and selling.

Why is Amazon so successful? Because it makes it easy to buy. Why does the average train booking system make me want to waterboard my laptop? Because someone decided to try and impose a labarynthine list of options on a system which can only accept "yes" or "no" as an answer to any particular choice. It's like being sent into a maze where you can only go right or left. At best most computer systems just leave a post-it note on the hedge which may or may not be relevant to where you are trying to go. This is fine if you want so while away half an hour in Hampton Court, not when your credit card and sanity are at stake.

After 20 years and the application of the smartest brains on the planet, we should be able to do better than this. In summary then reader, I do what I do because I share your pain. I am Joe Punter. If my solutions look simple, it may well be because I can't make AJAX sing on your desktop. But mostly it will be because I understand the frustration of most people who are confronted with complicated answers to simple questions. I hope to be able to point out both good and bad usabilityand hopefully show there has to be a better way.


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