This Won't Be Easy

June 04, 2016

The web is changing and yet I don’t think we understand just how much it is changing. Both how we develop but also why and for whom. The web looks different to me today than it did just two years ago.

It’s hard to see change when you’re in the middle of it but we can’t lose sight of reality. The reality is that on the scale of history the web is still in its infancy. It’s too young to have hard rules.

I spend a lot of my time doing one of three things:

  1. learning how to build for the current web
  2. actually designing and coding
  3. interacting with others who want me to build something for them

This is important to explain because how I view web development has changed. If you’re not engaged it’s difficult to grasp just what it takes to make something today.

I’ve heard, all too often, someone say, “I think we can do this pretty easily.” Or even better, “I think we can quickly come up with an intuitive flow for the user.”

I’ve been the one to say something along these lines in the past. I don’t anymore because there is zero truth to it and it’s a dangerous mindset to have. It completely discounts the work needed.

Let me give an example. In the past I was looking at the checkout process on a site I worked on. The existing checkout process was poor. Visually, it was outdated and had little alignment. As a flow, it had none. It would throw errors that could have been avoided. The messaging was unhelpful and didn’t display in obvious places. So, all-in-all, it needed some love.

Now, I really wanted to work on this and make improvements. So, I did what any enthusiastic designer/developer looking to impress would do. I found three or four beautiful looking checkout flows from other sites and mocked up a redesign. That was the extent of my research. I shared that with the key decision makers and asked that we do this on the basis that it would be pretty easy.

I had no idea how to do proper validation, or limit user frustrations, I just pitched a prettier picture. I didn’t think it would take long and estimated just a few days of work. The end result was time ran out and it sat half-baked. A complete waste.

I underestimated what it would take to make a real improvement because I thought it would be simple.

We often look at the desired outcome and imagine the process to get there is going to be straightforward and painless. Yet, no process for anything we have ever done before has ever gone this way. It’s ugly and messy. There must be research and planning and experimentation. You can’t just slap something together in you spare time because you think it’s a step better and be done with it. That’s just a recipe for mediocrity in my view.

I’m done with thinking something is going to be easy. Unless the ask is to change a single word in a block of content, it’s not going to be easy. And if I think it is, I’m missing something.

I encourage you to take a moment to think broader. The work is rarely as narrow as it first seems.