Even though this was written almost 5 years ago, the main thesis is very valid in this web 2.0 age.
To make your web application more usable, don’t listen to how people tell you they want to do things (but do listen to what they want to do though). You are much better off watching them approach your application for the first time. Study how they get to know the various components or stumble on what you think should be a no brainer. Don’t hesitate to iterate, or experiment with different approaches. And when in doubt, simplify!
According to Jakob studies, asking people what they did is asking for trouble as you get filtered, rationalized reports that might lead you in the wrong direction.
The key is to find the right questions to ask when you can’t watch your users. For example if
“… 50% of survey respondents claim they would buy more from e-commerce sites
that offer 3D product views. Does this mean you should rush to implement 3D on
your site? No. It means that 3D sounds cool…”
Truly, you haven’t seen that many 3D interfaces, so avoid the cool factor. Instead, if there are similar features available in other apps, ask them for the one they keep going back to. By the same token, asking them why they like it might not yield the right answer either.
“The more a design supports users in easily and efficiently doing what they want to do, the more they like the design.”
Take del.icio.us for example, not much fancy design, but the functionality is there. Although you can achieve the same goal with a cooler design and better usability, take a look at www.blinklist.com.
So when designing your app, focus on the user first, and wrap a design around it to improve usability, not the other way around. In the end, though, design and usability go hand in hand and you can’t do one without the other and they build on each other to create a masterpiece.