Monday, June 4, 2007

Focusing on the Wrong Things, Making the Complicated Even More Complicated

Everybody else is doing it, so why shouldn’t we?

Today I encountered that paradigm among a group of people that left me concerned, asking more questions than coming up with concrete solutions. Is mimicking your competitor’s products and services the best business strategy? Shouldn’t it be more about what works best for your company and, more importantly, what works best for your customers or end-users? What if you went in different direction entirely? You would think that doing something unorthodox would draw attention because it is not the status quo and not what people expect.

Most of the questions I am asking are rhetorical, but today was a typical case study of how businesses make things a lot more complicated than they really need to be. Whether it is basic services or the tools we use internally such as software, websites or web applications as part of our daily business processes, I think the wrong things are being focused on or they are being complicated because businesses and the professionals that run them are so desperately trying to gain the upper hand or just trying to fit in.

Here are a few observations I have about the uses of certain technologies in business today. Some of my observations are based on experience from years past. See if you agree or disagree with me that they are being complicated or if the wrong things are being focused on.

Far too much time and energy is wasted on what should go on the homepage of a website. Also, too much time is wasted on visual aspects. Regardless if it is for internal or external use, while it is important to have an attractive, visual appeal to you website, the content (what you are trying to say) is more important. May I submit to you the possibility of worrying about your homepage as the last item on your list of web development tasks? Here businesses concern themselves far too much with what should go on a homepage when they haven’t built or collected the content for the rest of the website. How would they know what to put on it if they don’t have the supporting content in place? By placing too much emphasis on the homepage you are shifting your focus away from the end-user and the overall purpose of your website. Businesses make a huge fuss over visuals because their competitors have a snazzy looking website. That may be true, but is it turning visitors off? Does it lack substance? What kind of message is it sending? Better yet, are they people they are trying to reach the same people you are trying to reach? There may be no way to tell with your competitor’s website, but just because it looks good doesn’t mean it is effective. In this case, this is a prime example of placing focus on the wrong things.

Software and Web Applications
I have encountered software and web applications that have been made more complicated than they really need to be. In some cases, features and functions are implemented just for the sake of features and functions. The prevailing philosophy sometimes is, “We may need those features in the future.” That might be what is said, but what is not said is less apparent. Sometimes (and this is my own personal opinion and observation) but features and functions placed in some software are put there to justify its existence or creation. This is not the fault of the programmers who ultimately create and implement the features. It’s usually at the direction of someone else. Unfortunately, unnecessary features and functions are placed in an application without consideration and fully understanding the needs of the end-user or how they intend to use the application. This is an example of making something that should be simple too complicated in order to justify it.

I’m not saying that we should abandon visual appeal for the sake of content and nor am I saying we should weed-out unique and interesting features for single-function solutions. Visual appeal and multi-purpose solutions are what make technology exciting and fun to use. Unfortunately, the temptation is present to go a little overboard because we see other people or other companies doing it. Style, presentation, as well as content and function have their place. The solution is to keep everything in context and not lose sight of the end-user, their needs and expected outcomes while using technology in their daily lives.

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