Archive for category: User Experience

The Complexity of Simple

01 Jun
June 1, 2017

Bunny Ears?We make things complex. It doesn’t matter what it is, we can make it seem more complex than it is. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at something simple: tying your shoes. This is something that you probably do every day, and something that we teach our children how to do. How complicated is that? I mean, young kids learn how to do it all the time! I remember being taught by looping my shoelaces into two loops (called bunny ears), then wrapping them around each other and pulling tight.

But try and break it down to the basic steps, and you will see how quickly something so simple becomes so horribly complex.

Here is a website that teaches you three different ways to tie your shoes
How To Tie Your Shoes. The shortest method shown has seven steps, but they still need to use videos to demonstrate the techniques. Think about how complicated it would be without those videos. On top of all of that, apparently we have been tying our shoes wrong all this time. Terry Moore: How to tie your shoes via TED Talks

But enough of tying shoes and bunnies, let’s get back to the web and cut to the chase. The web is complicated already. You have web pages, and apps, and content strategy, and oh, yeah — social media, AND inbound marketing, AND stakeholders, AND messaging, AND e-commerce, and — AHHHHH! The list goes on and on. It’s complicated, it’s convoluted, and it’s complex.

Make the Complex Simple

While one of the easiest things to do in design and development, is to make something simple seem complicated; possibly the single hardest things to do is to make the complicated seem easy. Making the complex seem simple is difficult and exasperating, and yet some companies are getting it right.


One of the best examples of this is the Google search page. Behind the scenes, Google has hundreds of servers, that continually scour, catalog, and index the Internet, so that when you type in a question, they can provide links to possible answers. Yet the page itself is very simple. A few unobtrusive links, one occasionally entertaining and informative logo, and one search box. That’s it. Nothing is there to distract you from doing what your need to do: run a search. All of the complexity is hidden away from the us, the user. We don’t need to know about the petabytes of data, and the thousands of hours that went into the complex algorithms that are used to give us any search result, let alone the one we are after. We don’t care about those things. We just want the results.

So why do we make things so complicated? It just seems to be a part of human nature. Maybe we are afraid that if things are too simple, they’re not important. Or maybe it comes down to communication. We make things seem complex, because we are trying to communicate our ideas as completely as we can, and words are all too often not enough. There is a world of truth in the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The web is such a wonderful and dynamic method of communication. It combines the written word, along with pictures, videos, audio recordings, and ever-evolving interactions in a way that our options to communicate clearly seem almost limitless. But along the way, we need to remind ourselves of the message we trying to convey, or the information we are trying to capture, and really ask ourselves if all the fluff is really needed. If the answer is no, then that’s a great place to start with making something complex more simple.

Your Website Goes Vroom!

05 Sep
September 5, 2014

Originally Posted on
Fast internet

As anyone who has ever done it will tell you, breathing life into a successful website is a big project. There are thousands of little things to think about, hundreds of big things to keep track of, and umpteen man hours spent actually getting the site ready.

Several teams will have their hands on your website way before anyone ever actually sees it:

  • The Discovery Team — This group helps you define and understand what the purpose of the site will be.
  • The Designers — This team lays out the wireframes and prototypes, adding color and personality to the site. At this point in the project, this is where ideas come and go like the wind.
  • The Developers — During this phase, things can get a bit hairy, as this team tries to figure out how to make everything work the way the designers intended. These people screw in all the nuts and bolts to make sure everything is working correctly.
  • The Users — This is your audience. They click on a link, and the page loads with all kinds of information. It’s like magic, and they are okay with that.

I thought of the following analogy a while ago, and think it’s the best way to put the life of a website into terms that anyone can understand: think of your website like an automobile (stay with me; this will make sense, I promise).

Now, in my simple world, there are four categories of people involved with the creation of an automobile:

  • The Designer – This is the person who decides what the car is going to look like — the shape, the color, how many doors it’ll have.
  • The Engineer — This person decides how it’s going to work and what kind of gas mileage it’s going to get. They know where every nut, bolt, and screw goes, and more importantly, why.
  • The Mechanic – These are the people who keep the cars running. They are the troubleshooters of the automotive world.
  • The Driver – I fall squarely into this category. We put the gas in, turn the key, and the car runs. It’s like magic, and I’m okay with that.

See the similarities? Any large scale project needs people with very specific skill sets. These skills may overlap, or they may not, but they always complement each other in a way that breathes life into the project. Both the Designer and Developer (or Engineer and the Mechanic, in the case of the car) need to have a very in-depth understanding of how the project works, but they have a different focus, and the skills sets needed for both jobs are complementary.

But if you are having a problem, who do you want to take your car to? The Engineer can probably figure out the problem, but it might take them a while. They may need to dig into the car, and tear it apart to find the problem. The Mechanic, who is used to looking for problems, might immediately know what the issue is and how to fix it. The difference between an Engineer and a Mechanic is that the Engineer knows where to put the screw, but the Mechanic knows when to tighten it.

Websites are very similar. When there is a problem, you can go back to the team that originally designed and built the site, but a better solution might be to go to a group that specializes in troubleshooting websites.

Maintaining a Healthy Website

The same can be said for the general well-being of your website. Once your website is live, the work doesn’t end there. Like your car, you need occasional check-ups, oil changes, tune-ups, etc.

A strong Content Strategy is one of the keys to a healthy site. You need to keep the content up-to-date, relevant, and appropriate for your audience. If you don’t have anything new, the reasons for people to visit your site will drop dramatically. Fewer visits mean fewer customers, which ultimately results in fewer sales, and no one wants that.

New content can come in many shapes and sizes, from a company blog, to curated articles, to information about new products and services that your company provides. The important part is having a strategy, and following it.

And occasionally, there will be problems. Things happen even on the best websites, and you need to address them, to provide the best experience for your users.

One Stop Shop

WSOL stands out from the crowd, because we offer many of these services. We have a team of dedicated designers and developers who build efficient, workable websites, and we a have a group of experienced support troubleshooters that can fix your site’s problems quickly.

And the best part is that those two teams work together closely and learn from each other. The developers learn what problems the support folks are dealing with and figure out how they can correct those problems during development, while the support team gains a better understanding of why something was done the way it was and how to better work with it.

Building a website is an exciting, frustrating, exhilarating, boring, and necessary part of business today. A huge amount of work will go into the Design, Development, and Testing of a site before it is ready for deployment. But the work doesn’t stop there. The web has a voracious appetite for new and updated content, and your site needs to help feed it. Plus, you need to keep your site tuned up, and address problems as they occur. Having a strategy, and a partner to help, can make all of the difference in the world.

Image credit: Deposit Photos

Can a Silver Bullet Save a Unicorn?

28 Aug
August 28, 2014

Originally Posted on

Have you ever gone looking for a unicorn? They’re really hard to find now-a-days. Very reclusive. They don’t give interviews, and they never publish their addresses online. In fact, finding a unicorn is the closest thing to an impossible goal that there is.

For those of us in the web industry, a “unicorn” is that perfect website. You know the one I’m talking about—the one with the stunning design that makes everyone who sees it stop and marvel at the sheer brilliance of the mind that created such a wonderful thing. And the content! Words fail to describe the pure literary perfection. The message speaks to everyone in a way that is both deeply moving and compelling.

Yeah, I haven’t found that website either. But I keep looking. The problem is that everybody has different needs, interests, and goals. So while your website might be that perfect unicorn for one person, for someone else it might just be a donkey with a plunger stuck to its head.

Here I Come To Save The Day

Silver Bullet Just Ahead Green Road Sign and CloudsIt seems like everyone is looking for that magic silver bullet that will change the donkey into a beautiful unicorn. They are searching for the latest and greatest thing that will solve all of their website’s problems, all while helping their hair grow back, shine their shoes, and do the dishes. (Okay, maybe not that last one, but that would be so cool, wouldn’t it?)

The truth is that a silver bullet, magical or otherwise, is as much an impossible dream as catching that unicorn. Things come along all the time that do something really, really well, and then, for some reason, people try to get it do everything else. They try to make it into the silver bullet, promising wild claims about how great this new thing is, and how it will do anything and everything you could ever need or want. But it can’t.

There is no silver bullet. What you need instead is a whole box full of silver bullets.

Let Things do What They do Best

Over the last few years, several new technologies, like Responsive Web Design, jQuery, CSS, and Inbound Marketing —to name a few—have emerged that have fundamentally changed the web, helping clever designers, developers, and marketers build some truly incredible sites.

How do they do that? They take a little bit of time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each technology and use it to its fullest. Then they stop there. Could they make it do more? Sure. Would that be a good idea? Probably not. The cool thing is that so many of the things we use on the web play very well together. So don’t pick just one, thinking it will do everything. You have a box full of these options, allowing you to choose the ones you need, and use them well. Responsive web design is wonderful, but it won’t do a thing if you don’t have a good content strategy in place.Donkey-Plunger

But will it Save the Unicorn?

Now that you have done all of that work, found your box of silver bullets, and gotten them all loaded up, will that plunger-encrusted donkey become a unicorn? I’m sorry to say, probably not. Having the perfect website for everyone is —and always will be— unattainable. So stop trying to achieve that unreachable goal of perfection, and focus on building a great website for the people you are trying to reach: your target audience. It might not be a unicorn, but it won’t be a donkey either.


25 Aug
August 25, 2013

Originally posted on WSOL.Com

A while ago, I ran across a video that really changed the way that I think about the web. It was a presentation on Vimeo, of a talk that Ethan Marcotte gave during the 2012 Build Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland, titled “The Map Is Not The Territory.

Like many things that Ethan has written and presented, this one was very well organized, informative, and thought provoking. He combined history with map making, with evolution, and the web, to make a profound statement that really gave me pause.

At approximately 19 minutes into the video, Ethan puts up a simple statement saying “THE WEB IS”, and then quickly goes through a number of things that complete that sentence.

  • THE WEB IS mobile
  • THE WEB IS http
  • THE WEB IS documents
  • THE WEB IS css
  • THE WEB IS design
  • THE WEB IS content strategy
  • THE WEB IS social
  • THE WEB IS …

Well, you get the idea. This statement was only up on the screen for a couple of minutes during his talk, but it made me ask:

What is the web?

Over the next several days, I kept coming back to this question. Yes, the web is all of the things that Ethan listed, and much, much more. But is that all that it is? The answer is a resounding No. Those are just some of the things that the web is made with and of, they are not the thing itself. As Ethan says in his talk, they are the map, not the territory. (For more information on the Map-Territory relationship, you can read about Korzybski’s Treatise)

What if the web is something different for everyone? That started to make some sense, because everyone has different interests and needs, and they go to the web for different reasons. So then:

What is the web for me?

The web is my life. As a developer, I spend 95% of my working day interacting with some aspect of the web, whether that is writing code, troubleshooting an issue, researching a technique or process, or communicating with others, it is all done with and on the web. It is the doorway into the world through which I go to earn my living.

I then started looking around, and talking to other people. For my wife, the web is a place where she goes for research about the latest graphics project that she’s working on; it is shopping for clothes and making travel arrangements. It is a place to keep in contact with friends and family who are not close by.

I found that for some people, the web is a mystery that they have no interest in. It simply doesn’t fit into their lives.

So what is the web?

As I continued to ask this question, I realized that it’s not just that the web is different for everyone, but that it changes for everyone all the time, depending on their current needs and interests. During the work day, the web might be a research and development tool. At night, it’s entertainment. When I don’t know something, it’s my teacher; and when I need something, it’s my store. It has become such a constant and pervasive part of our lives, that we don’t even think about using it anymore.

So, if the web is so many things, to so many people, how then, can we be successful with it? The key, really, is not to try to be everything for everyone. The web as a whole, is all of the things that have been mentioned, and while the web is certainly greater than the sum of its parts, it is those parts that make it what it is. The web is made up of millions of individual web sites, with billions of web pages, each one catering to a different group of people.

As a developer, I have seen how having an in-depth discovery process, uncovering information about the people who will be using the site, benefits everyone involved. Knowing that information in the beginning of a project enables the designers and developers to focus on what is important, on what is relevant, instead of on what is pretty. As the designers and developers of the web, understanding the fact that the web is many thing to many people helps us to build a better experience. A better web.


When people come to your site, they are more than just traffic, more than just numbers, or conversions, or dollars. They are individuals with a unique view of the world. Individuals with their own needs, their own priorities, their own desires, and they came to your site in search for something. In some cases what your site provides might be the map. For others, it is the territory.

But if your piece of the web can provide them with what they need, when they are ready for it, then you are on the road to success. You are contributing to the greater whole.

CYOA – Choose Your Own Adventure

10 Oct
October 10, 2012

A journey through your website

Note: I am not a content strategist or marketer, nor am I trying to pretend to be. These are my opinions based on being a web user for the last 15 years, and a web developer for the last 13.

As a child of the ‘80‘s, and a lifelong Science Fiction/Fantasy reader, books like Journey Under the Sea, and other Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books filled many an afternoon of my young life. I remember being enthralled by the choices that I had, and excited that I could make decisions on where the story would go next. I was in control of the journey.

Excerpt from Journey Under the Sea by R.A. Montgomery 1

Journey Under the Sea

The cable attaching the Seeker to the ship Maray is extended to its limit. You have come to rest on a ledge near the canyon in the ocean floor that ancient myth says leads to the lost city of Atlantis.

You have an experimental diving suit designed to protect you from the intense pressure of the deep. You can also cut the Seeker loose and travel further.

As agreed, you signal the Maray: “All systems GO; it’s awesome down here.”

If you decide to explore the ledge where the Seeker has come to rest, turn to page 6. If you decide to cut loose from the Maray and dive with the Seeker into the canyon in the ocean floor, turn to page 4.

Jump forward a few years to high school, and I am in my first computer programming class, writing a CYOA adventure game in BASIC (this was the ‘80s) for a class project. It was awful. The story was overly simplistic, the options minimal, and the experience dismal, but the idea, I think, was there. Provide a story that gives the reader some control.

Today, I build web pages for a living. It’s interesting how similar the tasks then and now are.

A few days ago, I stumbled across a very interesting article on Christian Swinehart of (, where he does a wonderful analysis of  many of the CYOA books. That article really got me thinking that CYOA books, the stories within them, and the user experience that they create have a lot of similarities to a website.

Ok, that might be a stretch, but let’s think about it for a bit. The books themselves are a really a collection of decisions, with some of the text set up to prompt the reader to make a decision. Do I go to page 6 or page 4? If I want to explore the ledge, then page 6 it is. The point is that it’s the user who has the control of where they go next.

Now look at the typical website. It too is filled with decisions that a user must make. Do I click on this link, try the menu, or run a search? Do I read this article first, then move on to comments, or jump out to and shop for Scooby Snacks? The choice is mine.

The point I am trying to make is that just like the readers of CYOA books, the website’s users make choices on where they are going to go on a sites. We, as content authors, marketers, and developers can provide guidance and suggested paths through a website, but ultimately, the users are going to choose their own path.

If you decide to keep struggling towards the surface, turn to page 51.
If you decide to rest quietly, gain strength, and work out a plan, turn to page 53.
Journey Under the Sea pg. 33

Building an Adventure

I don’t mean that your website should be littered with traps and mazes, but it should be interesting and engaging for your users. If your content is boring, then why would anyone read it? Many companies make excuses for not building great content (see 4 Lame excuses brands use for not creating content ). It’s also very important to keep your content current to give your readers a reason to be on your website, and a reason to come back.

Reaching the Treasure

You need to make your site easy to move through, and navigate successfully. If your goal is to get the user to purchase those Scooby Snacks bites, then don’t make them go through a web page equivalent of the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Make it easy for them. Have a clear, simple navigation and easy search functionality.

All Roads Lead to Victory

At least, that is what we hope, but the reality is that not every journey will lead to success. And if you have too many roads, how will the user know what to do, or where to go?

Imagine coming up to an intersection with road signs like this,  and trying to make a decision on which way to go. 2

Make the choices clear and easy to understand. Options are good, but too many options can be overwhelming. Don’t send the user down useless paths, instead make it easy for them to get where they want to go. They will appreciate it.


Ultimately, a user’s journey through your website is based on the decisions that they make. We don’t know what brought them here, or where they will go, or how they will get there. What we can do is to make sure that the experience that they have is worthwhile.


If you decide to try and escape, turn to page 62.
If you try to hitch a ride on the whale, turn to page 83.
If you don’t know what to do, turn to page 86.
Journey Under the Sea page 64


1Journey Under the Sea, R.A. Montgomery, first published in1978 by Chooseco, LLC. ISBN  10 1-933390-02-6 and 13 978-1-933390-02-4

2 Image courtesy of