Today’s user is a creator. With all the modern technologies at hand, he is big-banging through life by building new things. Or at least that’s what he wishes to do. Thus, products that go beyond the ‘just use’ stage and empower people to create are rocking the market.
With this in mind, I naturally thought about the whole website development industry. I’ve been in it for over 10 years now, using tools and building my own. So far, it seems like the best embodiment of this new user-creator era.
Times when people with no tech skills were limited to simply ‘using’ the web are over. Now every individual with enough passion and determination (which sometimes can be very little) can create beautiful websites / blogs / online stores / etc. and share his content with the world.
The beauty is that in this case creation multiplies itself: we, developers, create tools (blogging platforms, CMSs, frameworks, builders…) that empower others to create things of their own. That being said, I have to admit that threshold is not easy to pass.
For the past six months I have been working on the new ImpressPages release. Lots of things were on the list but first and foremost was my wish to make it a truly empowering tool. One that helps people create. A vague description, I know. That’s why I settled with these 3.5 “rules of thumb” to explain what I was going for.
3.5 rules of thumb for creating an empowering tool
1. It solves (someone’s) problem
Good products satisfy the need, better products solve problems. Take my example: a month ago I bought a new ultrabook. It’s light, fast, easy to use, battery life is long. I get work done faster and with more delight. But there’s a downside – UI on Windows 8 and all of its apps is…ugly. Nonetheless, I enjoy using this ultrabook because it solved my initial problem of productivity.
When we developed first stable version of ImpressPages in 2009, users came because of the drag&drop feature. We really had annoying issues with code, but this one feature solved the problem of easy content management which was crucial. So they stayed.
What’s more, it’s not a beauty pageant. Your product doesn’t have to reach for world peace. At best, it can solve problems of several target groups and that’s enough. I think WordPress is kind of in this midlife crisis trying to fit the shoes of both, a blogging platform and a content management system. The outcome? A good tool for neither.
With ImpressPages we chose one and chose to do it good (best!). Empowering people to create beautiful websites was our goal. Not blogs or online shops (thus we admit that implementing a blog or eCommerce with ImpressPages is still a pain). On the other hand, open source provides users the flexibility and extensibility so basically anything can be done.
2. It eliminates the pain of use
Solving problems is one step, eliminating the pain of use is another. Take that same ultrabook I bought – I am pretty sure that over time that ugly UI will cause me pain and I’ll decide to change even if it meets all of my technical quality standards.
But pain of use is hard to fight as it is often justified by habit. We use lots of things just because we are used to them and change seems risky. It’s a common case with content management systems – agency acquires one CMS, client gets used to it and even if it doesn’t work properly, they stick with it.
An empowering tool toggles that fear by providing a bigger value. Show user he has a toothache. Sure, dentist sounds daunting but you know it’s gonna get worse if you don’t fix it. Those minor problems that occur after changing is a very low price to pay when compared to the increased value.
We have users who tried almost every web development tool in existence – WordPress, Drupal, Magento, Joomla, etc. The feedback is similar – they used it, it worked, sh*t got done. But the pain was always present, especially when it came to content management. With ImpressPages we empower both sides: webdevs can create more complex websites without the fear that content managers won’t be able to use them; content managers can put more trust in developers without the same fear of unusability.
3. It adds value to your work
Now this stage is exactly what I had in mind when talking about products that let people create. Mostly this value is realised as time and money. If the tool in use can save time and money OR (ideally) create more of each, that’s your added value right there.
With ImpressPages we wanted to do just that. Our goal was to create a system that allows to do more by doing less.
If you come think of it, all websites are similar by content they bear and functions they use. So at ImpressPages we summarized it and provided by default. 95% of the things are there and working: themes, plugins, widgets, SEO, multi-linguality, etc. This pre-made bundle saves a lot of time for developers and content managers, boosts their productivity and quality of work. The other 5% are left to add that “personal touch” value, as every user has the autonomy to extend ImpressPages to his or her’s needs.
3.5. It gives and takes back
Sustainability is important is every relationship, in that between product and user as well. Striving to build an empowering tool you really need to know the nature of your user. If you’re just starting, my advice is to do it as personal as possible. It will get hard along the way when the community grows bigger. But if you look for signal rather than noise, it will remain a doable task.
At ImpressPages we keep in close contact with the most active community members: we talk by email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter, we look at the websites they build and draw conclusions out of that. This communication encouraged and helped us to make such improvements as integrated marketplace. We also had lots of discussions when optimizing the ImpressPages 4.0 widget bar but after talking to our users it was easy to distinguish the most important ones.
At the end of the day, it’s that feeling of merit that really adds up to the value. An empowering tool makes you feel a part of its success.
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