Awesome vs. Accessible

In a product planning meeting recently, I said that given the choice between [A: something that's easy to set up but not that awesome] and [B: something that's hard to set up but pretty awesome], I’d choose the latter, B.

Mostly, I prefer awesome things and don’t see much point in making something that’s not that awesome, so this position makes sense to me.

But let’s think about the experience of someone who doesn’t yet know anything about our design!

In the first case, in which we’ve made a good feature that’s easy to use but doesn’t do anything really ground-breakingingly awesome, our new users arrive and think, “ok, I see what this does, fine.”  In the second case, in which we’ve made an awesome feature that’s hard to use, many of our new users will arrive and think, “I don’t know what I’m looking at.”  If we’re lucky, they’re students in our class and they cannot choose to leave.  Online, they mostly leave.

Later, in the first case, when we do extend the functionality to be really awesome, those initial users will think, “wow, ok, now this is going somewhere!”  In the second case, when we enhance the UI so it’s really easy to set up, most of those new users are… nowhere to be seen.  It was too hard to get started.  What’s worse, the users that did stay don’t need the enhancements you just released – they already worked their way through the difficult setup.

These two options are extreme, but I think we often come upon decisions between spending another week on the design and spending another week on the functionality.  Or instead of a week, a day, or an afternoon.

I prefer awesome things, but part of teaching is understanding that other people have not yet prepared their mental contexts for the awesome things I understand.  Making something accessible, or spending time on helping others build up their understanding, is a big difference between making something for myself and making something for other people.

In my calculus classes I insisted on teaching students programming first, so that they could really express themselves.  There’s value in that idea, but now I wonder how much of that was for them and how much was for me.

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