I’ve had a long-standing rule of thumb in product design, which I call “design for the novice, configure for the pro.” I started saying this back in 2001/02, long before the era of Web 2.0, lean startups or even the advent of AJAX.
My philosophy emanated from my days of programming and later designing corporate software in the early 1990’s. We were smart kids straight out of college and were designing the systems that we’d want to use. We were young, computer literate and interested in learning about or playing with new technologies.
I watched us build systems for large corporations whose employees were in their 40’s / 50’s and who were primarily concerned with completing their business functions rapidly and with limited errors. In designing GUI interfaces for people coming from the green-screen world we built applications that would be great for desktop publishing, not customer service reps. We built in too many clicks, too many features, too many distractions. We were confident we had improved things until we got to usability testing and watched with horror.
Fast forward a decade and now I had a startup filled with smart web developers. I was 31 and they were in their 20’s. Invariably they would build in too much functionality and assume that users were both familiar with and interested in having tons of choice. My mantra back then was “what would your mom be able to use?” Simplify, simplify, simplify.