TechTalksTO: 2 Usability lessons from Twitter

April 1, 2011

TechTalksTO“Don’t let your site be broken!” One of several lessons Ben Cherry shared at the latest sold out TechTalksTO (supported by FreshBooks). He spoke to the code-savvy crowd about best practices for development strategies and proven rules for maintaining solid and consistent web construction. According to Ben, being thoughtful about the user experiences in your web development process will make your application stand apart from other less flexible products. Do you ever think about that 1% of your users using obscure or outdated browsers? Or how powerful a service error message can be?


Consider the user at every stage

Ben declared that every user matters. He maintained that developers should always be thinking about the ways that your content can be made more accessible. Your main aim, he stressed, is to “deliver a good, non-broken experience to everyone.” His tips: review your website in a screen reader, make your URL’s easy to guess and to speak, and always ensure tests have passed before shipping (decomposing parts of your application to improve its testability as required).

The Fail Whale keeps users happy

However, if you’re busy beating yourself up over errors, give it a rest. Ben saw errors as a normal part of a well-designed system so long as you are always aiming for recovery and staying in open communication with users about the issue.

Think of the ‘fail whale’: an image representing a glitch in the Twitter feed yet totally able to convey a regretful and accountable sentiment on behalf of Twitter. The charming whale could easily have been the standard confusing bad gateway error message but instead gently asks for patience. Ben advised that a good error message shouldn’t be underestimated. A good failure message should:

  • Assure the user that the failure wasn’t the users fault
  • Communicate the problem is known and a fix can be expected when they return
  • Be helpful and restore faith in the system
  • Be playful

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