It’s incredibly easy to try out new applications these days – especially web-based ones since they don’t even need to be installed. And the more applications that people try, the more important that discoverability becomes.
People who try out an application don’t want to spend any time learning it. They want to get started with it now, see what it does now, and cast it aside now if it doesn’t fulfill their needs. If they can’t discover the features they need right away, they’ll look elsewhere. It’s not like it’s a huge investment of their time to Google for your competition.
Read the help file? Are you kidding? Nobody reads the help file these days. If someone can’t figure out your application by simply using it, you’re screwed if you think you can rely on your help file to explain it to them. Customers would rather try out your competition than read your documentation.
If you want to grab potential customers, you’ve got to make your most important features easily discoverable so that new users won’t miss them. Your next trick is to do that without creating a level of toolbutton overload that would intimidate those same new users. And you’ve also got to avoid annoying experienced users by constantly getting in their face with all your wonderful discoverability.
It’s a tightrope walk, for sure, but I’m happy to walk it. When compared to software written a decade ago, today’s software is generally more usable, and I believe that’s due in part to the fact that discoverability has become more important. Out of necessity, many developers are making it easier to start using their software, and more often than not, I’ve found that this also makes their software easier for experienced users as well.
Yes, most programs – including my own – are still too complicated, too fragile, and too unfriendly, but in general software is slowly getting better, don’t you think?