context

All work is done in a context that makes it understandable, gives it guidance and direction and helps the people doing it solve problems they encounter along the way. Work on computer programs, applications and websites is no exception.

You can write instructions for a task, whether is digging a ditch or filling out a form, but unless the person trying to do the work grasps “the way we do that here” they will not make all the little decisions that work involves in a way that fits in and enables the work of the other people around them. Written instructions are a good way to call things back to memory for tasks that are not done that often, or a reference for someone who is just starting to reinforce what they have been shown, they are not a way to “teach” someone how to do something.

In order to learn how to use any tool a person needs the example of someone who already knows the tool and the environment. It is this example that will guide them in their work and give them a goal to work towards in mastering the tool.

This is why it’s so hard to design “intuitive” websites, which people have to use in isolation, without anyone to learn from. As a friend of mine once said,”When someone says something is ‘intuitive’, it just means they’ve done it before.”

It’s also the reason that “off the shelf” computer programs that were not designed and implemented in the context of the organization using them are such a poor fit for the work that is needed. They are often difficult for people to use, and their lack of integration means