The Priority of Constituencies

I have been reading Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 for Web Designers for all of 10 pages and I’ve already found awesomeness: namely, the term “The Priority of Constituencies.”

Sounds fancy. It’s not – it’s painfully simple, actually. It’s a design term, stating that, “in case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementers over specifiers over theoretical purity.”

In other words, the further something moves along the line toward its final destination, the more important the needs of those who come in contact with it. Power to the people and all of that.

First off, this concept is at odds with a couple of wonderful feelings: comfort and ego. Things should be easy. And they should be done our way.

Bummer, huh? Because, unfortunately, that’s not how things roll out. Chances are, what works for us at the top level won’t work for our end users.

Think of the process that goes into creating a can of soda. Each stage of the process is guided by a different set of needs.

  • Management wants a can that helps them make money.
  • The bottler wants a can that can withstand the rigors of machine-guided filling.
  • The distributor wants a can that travels well.
  • The retailer wants a can that’s easy to stock.
  • The end user wants a can that’s easy to hold and open.

If everything is done correctly, users get what they want, and everything else filters down from that.

Oftentimes, though, they don’t.

We see this with content. A mission statement, for example, is a wonderful outline for a business leader to follow, but is absolutely worthless to the person who just wants to know they’ll be able to get through to a live person on the phone.

We see this with usability. What’s done out of ease and to help protect against the most extreme outlier may not work for the standard user. The scrambled interface of a CMS could be organized for maximum speed and organization, but if a first-time user gets lost because it’s not optimized for usability, they’ll never come back.

The further away we stand from our end user, the harder it is to envision their needs.

Put yourself in their place. Will your Web site meet their needs? Or is it simply trying to meet yours?

(Originally posted at the Blend Interactive blog.)