other posted in other news  on 15 January 2014
by Andrew Lang 
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Developers 0 Users 1

That's the final score. The away team won, when the home team thought they had the advantage.

What am I talking about?

The "battle" between what developers want to develop, and how the users of their websites / software / apps actually use their creations.

Developers want to show off their skills. However, the bleeding edge doesn't really sit well with simplicity. Simplicity - on the face of it - doesn't seem that appealing to many developers. It's.....too simple. Not that simplicity in respect to design is actually easy to pull off. In fact, simple design can be deceptively difficult to achieve. Simplicity also requires great temperance from the developer to NOT shoe-horn in their latest tricks and knowledge for purely selfish reasons: using bleeding-edge techniques is enjoyable and challenging, you can earn respect from developer communities, your portfolio looks more dynamic when you're using such techniques.

But why did I mention simplicity in the first place? Because that's what users want. Users, in fact, just want to get to (and consume) content easily and quickly. Users who are frustrated just leave for somewhere that's easier to browse.

If the latest techniques aid the user, then there's no battle taking place (for example, a well-executed responsive design which I would count as a reasonably "modern" technique) . But employing such techniques purely for selfish reasons (experience, kudos, enjoyment) may well impact negatively on the end-goals of the project. Some examples of technology trumping end-goals:
  • the popularity of Flash-only websites in the late 90s. Conceptual, sometimes-beautiful, largely useless - poor navigation, not accessible to search engines back then, no back button, inaccessible to disabled, needed a plugin just to get the site to work (remember this was the late 90s), just a frustrating experience all-round in many many cases
  • the popularity of website apps just a few years ago. You browse a website on your iPad, and up pops a message saying you can have a much better experience using their special app to browse the site. Click here to download. No thanks. You shouldn't need a stand-alone app (that only works on some devices) just to make a website more presentable for that particular device. A website should be presentable on all devices automatically via responsive / adaptive design. The whole point of HTML is its flexibility. And yet, a few years ago developers were cajoling their clients into "keeping up" with this latest developer offering.
Both fads above have (largely) died out because the user didn't like them. The user always wins, but how much developers (and developers' clients) lose by depends on just how stubborn the developer is in foisting the latest technologies onto their clients regardless of the impact they have on their end-users.

Another problem with focussing so intently on the latest techniques is that you can stop seeing the bigger picture. I mentioned something about this years ago here - and it's just as true today.

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