Your Web Site and the Curse of Knowledge

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Web sites take work. We spend a lot of time developing them and writing the copy. Then we throw the switch and assume that visitors will have an easy time understanding our message and doing the things we want them to do. Usually we’re wrong, at least a little bit.

We’re on the inside so we understand exactly what we mean. We know our processes cold. That’s the root of the problem called “The Curse of Knowledge.”

The Curse of Knowledge makes us use jargon instead of the language of the masses. It makes us skip steps in processes and assume that visitors will understand. It makes us leave out explicit requests or instructions because, “everybody knows that.”

The results are often a confusing web site, ill will, and lost business. Here’s how to beat the Curse of Knowledge on your web site.

As you’re preparing your copy, especially instructions and requests, ask yourself “Would this be clear to my mother?”

Bring in some intelligent 15-year-olds to read your copy and tell you what they think it says. Prepare to be surprised.

Ask those same teenagers to try to perform some tasks on a mock-up of your site.

When you’re over being stunned, rework the copy and the processes. Then bring in some different teenagers and repeat the testing process. Do this until everything is right.


Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath addresses the Curse of Knowledge and many other ways you can mess up.

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