System providers estimate that becoming accustomed to a graphical interface should require about eight hours of training. Other experts say the learning time is closer to 20 or 30 hours.
Wilbert O Galitz – The Essential Guide to User Interface Design
If so, where does that leave your common or garden web application or site? Only Facebook, Google and handful of others can command that sort of attention. But for most us, we’ll probably lucky if our users are with us for much more than an hour or so. And that time spread over a long period of months is virtually useless as learning time. What’s more, unless you’re performing some sort of function users consider essential to their lives, you probably don’t want to be seen as a massive time sink.
I think there’s only one way; conventions. Make use of the things people learn elsewhere. It’s not simply preferable, it’s pretty much mandatory, unless you want users to fail utterly.
There are other advantages of course; use of conventions can make some aspects of interface design simpler, as you’re not having to create a completely new design pattern that you have to help your users learn. Although it then necessitates a different kind of skill; that is, identifying which convention is appropriate for the situation you are facing.
This all prompts a further thought in my mind, which is that the web is all just one big application anyway. And we might be much better off if we stood back and saw ourselves as not designing a separate entity, but a small component of something much greater.