I recently read an article in Newsweek (no longer available) in which the writer, David McCullough, as a high school commencement speaker, told the graduates they were not special. Now, in context, he meant that they were no more important than everyone else. They should not expect to get special treatment, to be put in front of the queue, bump up a grade, request a test retake, or to be given certain privileges. In the real world you need to work for opportunities.
How does this relate to design? Well, what if I told you that your site or application was not special? There is no real reason to force upon your users a manual or lengthy on-screen help box for task completion. Your users should not have to read through step by step “next step” emails of how to use your system.
Your job is to not educate the user on how to use your system, your job is to design the system so that the user has what they need to intuitively understand what they need to do to get their task done.
In higher-ed, where we have a captive set of users, we often scoff at the notion that our students are too busy to read our emails, follow our handbooks, or read online documentation. “Our information is important,” we say. The problem is “we” consist of a dozen, if not more, departments saying the same thing. To the student you are not special, you are just part of the noise to an already busy academic and social life.
When it comes to government, education, and other organizational services we need to focus on the user and their experience. They need to easily find what they are looking for, complete the task, and get on with their life--or at least on to the next organization that is clamoring for their attention.
Spend time designing for usability, not for business process education. Your site or app is not special, do not hold your users hostage.