I was at The Bang! on Saturday and my friend Tom was talking about how some of the music just wasn’t danceable. He made one of the more profound comments I’ve heard in a while. The problem, he said, is that “DJs don’t dance”. Simple and true. DJs often play music that is hard to dance to. You’ve seen it when you’re out at a club and a new song comes on. Suddenly the dance floor clears out. A few people try to hang in there but the beat is so bad that their gyrations start to look more and more like a seizure. The song may be a great one. It may be the song everyone sings along with on the road trip. It may be awesome at the start of the Detroit Pistons game. However, the song just doesn’t work when you try to dance to it. If the DJ had to dance to their own music this could be avoided. They’d quickly recognize that the song they were bobbing their head and singing along to failed to move their feet.
The same thing can happen when you don’t use the things you build as a designer. Try filling out the forms you built and you’ll realize that the instructions are not as clear as you thought. Try using the web app for a while before you expect someone else to. We’ve found that this is especially useful when looking at the backend of a site. Try administering the site yourself for a while. Use the form you built to add a lot of content. Do it for days on end. You’ll find what works and what doesn’t then. You’ll find out which steps could be automated with a little more effort or creativity when you have to do them. Just like the DJ who has to dance to his own music you’ll find out what really moves people and what doesn’t.
On a recent project we used an admin form for adding products to an e-commerce site. The form required a description to be added and marked up in HTML. After using this for a while to add products it was clear to us that it would not be easy for the client to do this so we added TinyMCE to make formatting the product descriptions simpler. The HTML that had been used was pretty simple – a few header, paragraph, and lists tags. However, the addition of the WYSIWYG editing has significantly sped up the entry of product information and cut down on errors from malformed markup.
Perhaps this is why products that are used regularly by the people who made them are often better than those that aren’t. 37signals made Basecamp, they use it every day, and it is great. Can the guys who made the software at your bank say the same thing? What about the e-commerce store you just shopped at? Did the designers have to shop there? Did they go in and process orders with the other employees? How might the shopping experience have been better if they had?
In summation, I present to you, the jury, a simple conclusion. DJs should dance to their own music and designers should use what they make.