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Cognitive Overhead
Today's LinkedIn news trawl turned up one article that's well worth my while to remember, on Cognitive Overhead.

The heart of the point is that everybody *talks* about simplicity in product design nowadays, but we often don't understand what that means. There's often a focus on smaller, faster, with fewer controls, but that's not really the important part. The essence of true simplicity is how easy it is for somebody to *grok* your product: to understand what they can and should be doing with it, and how to make it do what it's supposed to.

This is going to be Querki's biggest challenge. I know what Querki is supposed to do, and I'm reasonably sure that I can build it. But getting to the point where the typical Internet user can pick it up and start doing things with it -- *that* is going to be an epic project, and I suspect it'll take several years to get to the point where it's adequate. I've got a lot of ideas in various directions, ranging from how naive users will get into the system in the first place (one of the many reasons to focus on App development), to how we build a UI that makes sense to folks, to simply how we *describe* the tool to the public. But I expect all of those are going to need tons of tweaking and tuning (and often throwing out and starting again) to get it right...

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As a usability kind of guy, it has to go in from the beginning. You can't tweak and tune your way there.

Possibly, but at this point the unknowns are too huge. I have hypotheses, but testing them is probably going to require a working system. So basically, I have to run a large number of usability experiments, and go into it with the understanding that it may require *big* changes before it's reasonable.

And yes, some aspects of the information architecture can't be changed downstream: there are some necessary gambles here. I have a few advantages in making those guesses (in particular, many years of UI/UX experience, and the fact that I've been using the prototype of this system for ten years myself), but we won't know for a while whether I've made any serious and unalterable mistakes...

Over the years I've followed with some interest your various sideline projects. The problem for me is that I've never been able to grok what it is you're trying to do. I know you just well enough to believe that Querki is probably very interesting and possibly useful to me if it ever gets finished. But I still don't know quite what it is you're trying to do.

Yeah, that's the difficulty of a platform play -- which is essentially what this is. That was one of the major realizations, a fair number of months ago, and has driven a lot of decisions since.

For someone with a technical background like you, the concrete explanation is fairly straightforward, actually -- it's a somewhat novel database system coupled with a somewhat novel web front end. Why that is *interesting* can only be shown by building apps and showing why it's easier, though...

On a related note, I ran across an article on an experiment about the understandability of code (via Sean Carroll.) I don't know if any of it is relevant to QL, but it might be.

Intriguing -- I'll need to read that. Thanks for the pointer...

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