Ease of Use for Novices vs. Experts

As we're sprinting ahead on our Consumers Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems, one of the interesting aspects that we're considering is the ease of use for the novice vs. ease of use for the expert user.

I'm finding that not many people have really heard of the idea of expert ease of use, but it's a really important one in the usability realm. And it's particularly important when you're considering systems that you'll be using a lot. For instance, a development staff person might use a donor management system hours per day.

Most people think of "Ease of Use" as measuring how easy a system is to learn - how intuitive is the layout and terminology? Can you figure out where you're supposed to go? Are complicated things simplified with wizards and multi-step processes? Will everyone need training? That's ease of use for a novice.

The idea of expert ease of use is to measure how much the system supports the work of people who already know the system well. Are repetitive tasks made easier? Are they fast, or do they take a million clicks (things like wizards are often a downside here, as they get in the way of someone who knows just what they want to do). Do things generally seem to work the way they should, or are you always having to do weird hacks and work-arounds?

For instance, consider Adobe InDesign. I love InDesign, but no one would say it's easy to learn. Even if you know Photoshop or Illustrator, there's a ton of complexity and different functionality, as well as a whole other mental model. I always teach myself stuff from books, but with InDesign I'm stumbling and wishing I had taken a class.

But it's a miracle once you learn how to use it. Everything just seems to work just right. Page numbers? Done. Floating image with a caption on top of other text? Done. Need to bold the first sentence of every bullet point for forty pages of bullet points (a task close to my heart)? Like five clicks, and it's done. It's not optimized for the novice. It's optimized for the expert user - which completely makes sense for a tool like this, that many people use pretty much all day every day.


I think there can be a

I think there can be a balance. Like you said, too many wizards or help systems can get in the way of day-to-day tasks, such as entering names and gifts.

Likewise, esoteric activities-like creating a new report from scratch- probably does require some sort of wizard to walk you through it. However, at any point the software should always let you drop down into 'expert mode', so that you can save time and get the job done.


Jon Biedermann
Vice President
DonorPerfect CRM Fundraising Software

I think this is a critical

I think this is a critical factor, particularly regarding donor databases. Our recent choice of database was strongly influenced by the assumption, based on the demos, that our new system would be far friendlier when it came to querying and ad hoc reporting than the old one. The goal here is for the same staff that manage the information to be able to get at it, replacing a system where almost all deep analysis had to be designated to SQL gurus in IT. It's not just about getting a good database - plenty of them have very advanced capabilities. But they don't do you much good if they're too geeky for all but a few people to actually use. Hear, hear!