Reading a recent blog from Oleg Shilovitsky, I couldn’t help but think about the difference between User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX). The marketplace is always looking for more ‘UI programmers’ to improve the look and feel of software company’s offerings. Companies that I have worked for/with have toiled over how to make the product ‘look’ up-to-date, futuristic, google-like, etc. Round those edges! shadow those buttons!
Here’s the problem. After the first couple of mouse clicks (or swipes, drags, drops, etc.), THAT’S when UX kicks in. If all you have done is create a new Armani suit for that pig, your UI work has been nothing more than an exercise in futility. If you have not made the experience better for the user, you’ve really done nothing. Case(s) in point:
Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update (from theverge.com ) -
After months of leaks, some by Microsoft itself, Windows 8.1 Update will finally be available next week. Microsoft plans to distribute its latest Windows 8.1 update to existing machines through Windows Update on April 8th, although MSDN and TechNet customers can download it today. The software maker has been accused of going too far with its Windows 8 vision and forgetting the huge amount of people that still use desktop PCs and laptops. Windows 8.1 Update is the latest effort to address those concerns. “I think we did a little too much too quickly, and we didn’t do enough for the mouse,” admits Microsoft’s Chaitanya Sareen. Windows 8.1 Update is aimed squarely at mouse and keyboard users.
LESSON: Don’t abandon your installed base when you update your look and feel.
‘Educational Software Vendor’ -
I have been assisting my wife while she creates course-ware for her employer. The system they use (recently upgraded with a new look and feel), is EXTREMELY frustrating to use. Desktop publishing tasks that are commonplace for most software products are difficult, possibly non-existent, for this vendor. When I had to resort to copying and pasting raw html between documents, it became obvious that the new UI had not even remotely improved UX, in fact, quite the opposite.
LESSON: It may be pretty, but make sure it’s usable.
‘Manufacturing Software Vendor’
This vendor developed an exception program managing manufacturing data. The majority of the design cycles in development were spent in database schema design. The classic simplicity and adaptability of this schema was a thing to behold. The application that was layered on top was design to get the most out of the database schema.
The product manager then set to build a demonstration system to be used in sales demos. Three hours later, he walked out of his office and was heard to say, “This application is TEDIOUS to use!”
LESSON: Don’t spend all of your cycles on the architecture.
Why does this happen? Three reasons:
1) Software developers rarely understand the end use of their product and will opt for implementation choices that are technology centric, not user centric,
2) In the competitive software business, new features trump updates/fixes almost every time, and
3) The end user community is rarely part of the development process.
The best example of end user involvement that I’ve heard goes back a number of years, when Intuit had only one product; Quicken. I read (I believe in INC Magazine), that the testing protocol for Quicken was for a developer to visit an end user at their home, hand them the 3.5 in floppy (like I said, back a number of years), then shut up and watch. If the user could not install and use Quicken on their own, then the product wasn’t ready. I suspect as Intuit has grown and added products and complexity, this process is likely not followed anymore.
Does all this really matter?
You bet! The last three companies I worked for were in the business of providing niche products and services that could have been provided by the end customer’s ERP/PLM vendor(s), if those vendors had really taken the time to understand and implement what their end customers were looking for!
Lately, my iPhone 4s has been acting up. It routinely loses internet connectivity around my house, showing a strong signal, but not reaching the internet. Apple recommends turning wi-fi off, then on. That usually works, but is quite frustrating. Yesterday, I was trying to open one particular email on my phone, but every time I scrolled down, the app would crash.
What was I thinking when these things happened?
“I wonder if Samsung phones have the same issues?”