Friday, August 14, 2015

If we build it, they will complain. (John Morris)

Ah yes, transfer users. If you’ve never heard that phrase before, it’s really just a fancy way of identifying users who are moving from one system to another. Upgrading your iPhone? You’re a transfer user. Reacting to that redesign of Facebook? You’re a transfer user. Trying to adjust to that new software program at work that replaced the one you’d been using for 10 years? You’re a transfer user.

And one thing we know about transfer users is that they will squawk. They could be moving from steam-powered mainframes to gestural AI systems that read your brainwaves, and you can be as sure as the dawn that your users will protest, grumble, whine, bleat, carp, cavil, grouse.

Face it, it’s just human nature. People just don’t like change. Now, there are a whole bunch of fancy psychological ideas to support this concept – status quo bias, loss aversion, the endowment effect – but it’s just the way people are.

Think of the all the old idioms that describe just this situation. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Old habits die hard. The leopard can’t change his spots. And my particular favorite, Don’t move my cheese! Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of cheese-moving over the years.

How to get around the problem? Jared Spool is a big proponent of incremental change. I can highly recommend his article The Death of the Major Relaunch

Having worked on many major corporate rollouts over the years, I can also recommend putting together a serious communication plan. Tell your users what’s happening, when’s it going to happen, and why it’s going to be happen. Tell them these things in several different ways. Tell them these things multiple times.

A final idea is simply to wait. Humans are wonderfully adaptable creatures. That evil abomination that had users storming the corporate gates with torches and pitchforks might well have turned into something that they now can’t live without. Just give it time.

And that’s what I generally tell any team I’m on who is ready to jump off the roof after their relaunch generated less than 100% glowing feedback. Take two weeks or a month or so and look at your feedback again. It’ll probably be just fine. If it’s not, though, that’s when you really need to worry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Affordances are the baby to skeuomorphism's bathwater. (Dan Wineman)

So, before I do anything else, let me define a couple of terms. First, there’s the ghastly “skeuomorphism.” According to Google, it’s simply an “element of a graphical user interface that mimics a physical object.” They offer examples from note-taking apps, such as “yellow legal pads, squared paper, ring binders, etc." 

Skeuomorphs were at one time very popular parts of UIs. In fact, they were rather central in helping early users move from a world they were familiar with (e.g., the office) to one they were not.

Obviously, they can be overdone. Mimicking rich Corinthian leather for an online address book is a great example of a skeuomorphic design element that really doesn’t add anything, and that probably just gets in the way and looks a little cheesy as well. 

Other examples, however, include rather valuable elements, such as radio buttons, buttons with beveled edges, and tabs. Yes, these things mimic the physical environment. But they also help the user an awful lot. That beveled edge? It says, “Click me.” The radio buttons? They say, “Click one of me.” Tabs? They say, “click me for information on the topic listed.”

In this regard, these elements act, not just as skeuomorphs, but as “affordances” as well. And what, pray tell, are those? According to Don Norman, who first applied the term to software, affordances are “the perceived and actual properties of the thing that determine just how the thing could possibly be used.” Knobs on doors are made for turning. Light switches are made for flicking on or flicking off. Buttons are for pushing. They don’t need instructions. They’re not going to be misused.

So, where’s the problem? You can get rid of the wood grain and still make your buttons look clickable, can’t you? I mean, seriously, can’t you?

Well, according to the proponents of “flat design” (another term), you cannot. They’ve taken the horrors of faux leather and wood grain and mixed them in with the useful things, like buttons that look like buttons, field that look like fields, and tabs that look like tabs. And, unfortunately, those proponents are people with names like Microsoft, and Google, and Apple. Sigh … Hopefully, the pendulum will swing back again one of these days.

So, which light switch would you prefer to use?