This post is part of a series about Designing the Obvious, a book about common sense Web application design. Learn more about this series.
The simplest tools are the ones that don’t make you worry about breaking it. I once owned a shovel that routinely came out of its handle. Even on its good days it was hard to use because I was always worrying that I was going to lose the scoop.
The same is true on the Web. Designing the Obvious says to create forgiving software:
“Applications should allow users to play around and see what they can do without serious consequences.”
In desktop programs, we have Ctrl-Z (or Cmd-Z) to undo. I love undo. Everybody loves undo.
The Web doesn’t have much undo. Even worse, we’re often warned that what we’re about to do will be lost forever! How scary. The book gives the example of how GMail showed that we could make an undo.
“What Google did was brilliant, but not because implementing an undo feature was an original idea. It was brilliant because no one else was doing it on the Web and it’s the right thing to do… Any application that allows users to perform what are normally irreversible actions should include an undo feature.”
Boy, if undo was widespread, that would take care of lots of errors on the Web. There’s a whole chapter on handling errors and, even better, preventing errors.
Another method of forgiving software is creating good defaults and remembering what I chose last time. One of my pet peeves is having to go through the same series of steps over and over. It seems like that’s what makes computers great! Do the boring tasks for me.
What stuff do you see all the time on the Web that you wish would go away? Tell me below and maybe I can give you an autographed copy of Designing the Obvious. I’ll randomly select three commenters when I finish the series.