TAKE AWAY: The best way to ensure a scalable design is to design for experts before designing for novice users.

By Francois Aubin 

Topic: Scalability and User Experience


Users –whether experts or novices – use an application because they want to accomplish tasks. Experts want rapidity while novices want the ease of learning.  A major design problem is when the target user comprises experts and novices.

What does scalability mean?

In the area of information technology, scalability has two uses —-

1) From the computer engineer’s perspective,  scalability refers to a computer application or product (whether it is hardware or software) for optimized functioning when the size or its volume is being changed. 2) From the UX user experience designer perspective, scalability refers to a design that accommodates a wide range of users and context of use.  

The designer perspective

You may hear people saying it is not necessary to meet current users because the majority of users are the new targeted users having a general audience profile. This is a major mistake because general audience users are novices. Novice users don’t know the tasks and they have no idea of the problems they will encounter and how these can be resolved. Worse, they have not developed yet efficient tactics that experts have already developed over time.

The ensuing design will upset experts because they will not be able to exploit or make use of efficient prior tactics.  Usually, experts prefer a few screens with shortcuts while novices prefer less information spread on more screens. 

How do we address this design problem?

Experience shows that it is always good to meet expert users first even if they are not the main target.

Using the iterative design approach, efficient strategies and tactics are captured focusing on the expert users first.  In later iterations, the focus is on the novice users where the design is adjusted to allow them to use it with minimal training. 

Many interaction styles and patterns can be invoked that will allow the design to scale for both novice and expert such as menus with shortcuts, a search box allowing a command line, a wizard’s interaction style, an alternative path, etc.


The best way to ensure design scalability is to design for experts first and then scale the design to novice after, not the inverse. The inverse could be catastrophic because the design might not work for both novices and experts.