Thursday, February 9, 2017

Unfortunately, it's hard to differentiate in the software between someone who wants to go on a voyage of discovery, and someone who just wants to open a file. (Peter Flynn)

Now, what’s sad here is that I can almost guarantee that your design team (or marketing partners or senior execs) will err on the side of the former. It can sometimes be very hard for them to realize that this thing they’ve worked on, thought about, and agonized over for months, if not years, is really just a means to an end, a tool that users employ with little actual regard for the tool itself. 

Unless, that is, the tool was designed for some other purpose than to help those users achieve their goals … If, for example, it was designed with someone’s portfolio in mind, or to impress the division manager, or to get recognized in some magazine or on some website. Now, this will draw some attention to your tool. Unfortunately, at least when you’re talking about your users, that will almost always be attention of the negative kind. 

In general, users want tools that don’t draw attention to themselves. To them, your UI would be best if it were totally transparent, even invisible. 

And if your UI needs lots of training, that’s even worse. Note that that includes traditional kinds of training like manuals and videos, and more up-to-date, subtle means like coach marks and what’s-new content.

Now, of course, there are certain user types who do like to go exploring. These users are often techy types, and sometimes really do want to learn the tool and develop a mastery of it. Good for them! I’m not sure we need to develop our system around them though. Perhaps if we just offered some option so that they could go on that voyage without forcing everyone else to. Maybe a link to a tutorial, maybe an expert version of the software …

The important thing, though, is to concentrate on the user and their goals, instead of on the tool. 

Peter is at University College Cork, one of the better schools for usability in Europe

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