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Software Aesthetics and Quality

32 replies on 3 pages. Most recent reply: Dec 13, 2002 9:55 AM by Bill Venners

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Bill Venners

Posts: 2284
Nickname: bv
Registered: Jan, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 6:00 PM
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> Similarly here, you (or someone on your team) have
> designed a product that makes it difficult for people to
> insert their comments on the quoted text.

I am the guy responsible for the design of the site, so the buck stops here. Now the last time I looked, all you had to do to quote the original text is push a button labeled "Quote Original".

> That created a
> situation where majority of the users simply type their
> comments straight into the blank text area. Then, you turn
> around and use that anomaly as an explanatory principle,
> explaining away your poor design decision.
>
I see your point about the Soviet Union logic, but you'll note I did ask for other's opinions. An important part of achieving satisfied users is user testing and user feedback. You are the first user ever to complain about Quote Original, which made me want to ask for more feedback. Already Matt has posted that he doesn't think quoting should be the norm. My email browser gives users a choice, you can configure quoting to be the norm or not. That tells me some users probably don't want quoting to be the norm.

Now I could add a user configurable parameter that lets users decide whether to automatically quote, but I suspect most people don't care and most people would never see that parameter, so it is not the best place to apply my development resources. There are lots and lots of projects on the list of things to do, and so I have to select the highest priority ones.

> Exactly. That's because *you've* designed it, so you know
> precisely how is it going to behave. But not all of your
> users will be so keen on learning that, as it is a highly
> unusual feature (I've been using numerous other online
> forums and I've never seen the "Quote Original" action
> being included). So, your design suffers from deviating
> from the norm, thus inflicting a certain level of
> confusion that is making me, and potentially other users
> as well, highly uncomfortable.
>
Well, this forum is based on Jive Forums, whose default skins comes with a "Quote Original" link. Jive is used all over the place, so this is not the first site to have this kind of quote original functionality. Two other Java sites I know who use Jive are javalobby.org and the Java Developer Conection, so you should be able to see the Quote Original feature there too. I did change "Quote Original" from a link to a button, because the link replaced anything already typed in with quoted text, throwing away everything you typed. I saw that feature, unexpectedly throwing away people's posts, as unacceptable for users. If you want to see it in action, go to the JavaLobby. My little "Quote Original" Button prepends anything you've typed in with the quoted text.

Jive is here:

http://www.jivesoftware.com

JavaLobby is here:

http://www.javalobby.org

> In addition, I must tell you that at first I was forced to
> pull out and abstain from posting my comments, because I
> wasn't sure what are my comments going to be posted
> against. Clicking on the "Reply" action brings me to an
> empty canvas, which made me feel extremely uneasy. Only
> later on did I realize that you are echoing the content of
> the post I'm replying to. By the content was buried lower
> on the page, and I didn't realize that until I started
> exploring the page and managed to scroll down. But that
> was a fluke on my part, so again, to me this smacks of a
> poor design (i.e. relying on a fluke to inform the user of
> what's available).

I agree with you here, the trouble is that since I don't think the correct default is to quote the original text, I have the problem of where to put the original text. If the text area is below the original text, and the original text is large, then users wouldn't know where to type without scrolling, which I think is worse. I suspect most users figure they are replying to the post on which they clicked "Reply," though I agree it would be nicer if the original message were above the fold. It's just there's limited real estate above the fold.

Can you point me to some forums where they quote automatically?

Matt Gerrans

Posts: 1153
Nickname: matt
Registered: Feb, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 7:32 PM
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The problem that this illustates is a common one in software, I think: the old "You can please some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time" thing.

Now, perhaps, software being software, it could try and intelligently adapt itself to the user. However, then you get into traps where assumptions the software makes about you are really annoying (especially when you sit down at someone else's computer for a moment to help them with something).

For example, Windows has a cute feature, where if you accidentally press the enter key when you have a ton of files selected in explorer, it will proceed to execute each and every one of them (or the associated app). Some may see this as a very convenient mechanism for automating the treatment of a whole group of files and would be annoyed by confirmations. Others (like me!) think it is pretty ludicrous to automatically launch hundreds of unrelated apps simulataneously at the behest of an accidental keystroke.

Alex

Posts: 18
Nickname: alexbcit
Registered: Nov, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 7:50 PM
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> > ...explaining away your poor design decision.
>
> "Poor" is of course a subjective term and easy to throw
> around. It is poor in your opinion, perhaps.

You raise an interesting point. But before I comment on it, I'd like to ask you: in whose opinion should my conclusion be? Everything I say and write is in my opinion, of course. I thought it goes without saying that I'm not hiding behind anybody else's opinion. So your emphasis that what I write here is in my opinion, is in a way redundant.

Now that we have that cleared out of the way, allow me to address your contention about my conclusion that the design under scrutiny is "poor"; you said that it's only subjective, and that it's easy to throw such subjective things around.

In retort, I must agree with you that we do indeed live in an extremely relativized times. There are no absolute truths anymore, it would seem, and anything anyone says or concludes inevitably has the other, equally important side to it. And we, as a society, are today warming up to being open to examining each side of the story (CNN notwithstanding, of course). So, naturally, whenever someone says that something is "poor", we counter that with the inevitable fact that there must be someone, somewhere, for whom that same thing is fabulous. One man's garbage is another man's treasure, and vice versa.

So, if I for example design a car that has a gas pedal where usually a turning signal lever is, and a brake pedal where the wiper lever is, some people may say that my design choices are "poor". But in today's climate it almost seems inevitable that some smart Alec will emerge who would be prepared to argue that such a ludicrous arrangement is actually an excellent design choice. That, or at least such politically correct person may argue how the conclusion that having a brake pedal where we typically have a wiper control is "poor", is only, or merely, a subjective opinion.

But I implore you, gentlemen (and ladies), not to abandon your beautiful gift of using your common sense. If all the cars in the world already have a gas pedal to the right of the brake pedal, common sense tells us that it is ludicrous to make it otherwise, or to change it in any manner. Not only ludicrous, but downright suicidal. Such a fact cannot be relativized, no matter how politically correct we resolve to be.

> I think if quoting the original were the default, the
> forum
> would be polluted with tons of unnecessary quoted
> originals.

That happens only on the sites where noise-to-signal ratio is hopelessly low (in other words, where the level of education of an average contributor is dismal). Judging from the posts I've seen here, we're not in any danger of our community not knowing how to edit their posts.

> Another thing to consider is that the interface for a
> web-based forum doesn't have the flexibility of innovative
> user interface design that an application has.

Here you've touched the exposed raw nerve. More on that in some other posts, hopefully. But, yes, I agree with you 100%.

> And of course, it is always easier to complain about
> things than it is to suggest something better. Have you
> designed a better interface for web forums?

I've never had a chance to design a web forum. But if I had such an opportunity, I would make sure I don't limit my design to the interface only. End-user experience is more than skin deep, and it is profoundly affected by the overall design of the application. User interface is only a tip of the iceberg.

> Can you point to any web sites that provide good examples
> of what you think good user interface design is?

Alas, the answer is no. All the web sites I've ever seen have lousy end-user interaction, to say the least. This fact does not mean that the situation is hopeless, though. It only means that this is a new technology, in its early infancy, and that it's up to us to make it something valuable, something that delivers quality.

Alex

Alex

Posts: 18
Nickname: alexbcit
Registered: Nov, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 8:26 PM
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> I have also experienced a lot of frustrating software and
> web sites, but I don't believe that the only cause is that
> developers don't stop to think about making users happy.
> For one, I think it isn't easy to figure out how to make
> users happy. It takes skill and experience and maybe even
> some innate design ability to make users happy, and a lot
> of developers don't have it.

You've hit the nail on the head! I absolutely agree with you on this one. Now, I should've been more careful when choosing my words. I should've said 'designers' instead of 'developers', but I'm glad I didn't anyway, because it precipitated your valuable response.

So yes, you're right, the developers should not stop and think. They should simply go ahead and develop. It is us, the designers, who must stop and think, stop and think very hard.

But first of all, we need solid education in the area of 'what is it that makes users happy'. You were right to point in that direction. We must consciously go in that direction.

I have spent the past four years educating myself, training myself in the discipline of the so-called 'goal oriented design'. It is a very tough discipline, and I can assure that it takes years (for a person with average capabilities, like myself) before you start seeing forest instead of the trees. However, I was extremely lucky as I had a rare fortune to work really closely with a person who's been practising the goal oriented design for many, many years. Plus, that person was, besides being my mentor, also a VP of IT in a large company where we both worked, so he was dictating the software development climate. And he was giving us ample time to really take our jobs seriously, as he was first and foremost insisting on QUALITY (even if it takes five times longer to deliver than anticipated).

Now, I realize that many of you here have never been in such a situation, and consequently you cannot even imagine what an exquisite pleasure it is to work in such an environment. But sooner or later businesses will have to wake up to the reality that delivering lousy low brow products makes absolutely no sense, regardless of the time-to-market and budgetary constraints.

> Also, developers are often told by management to worry
> about other things.

See my elaboration above.

> You claimed in an earlier post that
> "User experience is the central theme to software design."
> That's an interesting statement that would be interesting
> to discuss, but I would counter that even if that's true,
> software design is not the central theme of a software
> business. The quality of your software's design is
> important to some extent to the business's bottom line.
> User experience is important to some extent, but it is not
> the only way developers can help the business.

I'll stop you here for a moment, in order to express my bewilderment: if user experience is not the most important aspect of software, what is?

Allow me to elaborate a bit: businesses use various resources in order to make profit. That's the reason businesses exist. One of the most valuable (if not *the* most valuable) resources are employees (people). People use other devices, such as computers, in order to enable the business to turn the profit. But in a way, businesses view even people as devices, meaning the resources that require some input and produce the output.

From that standpoint, the most important thing in the business operation is to maximize the output of the human 'devices'. And the best way to maximize that is to employ high-quality software that will support, not impede human users. So, this is absolutely the central point of contention in the world of business operations. Everything else is absolutely secondary to the human productivity.

> Adding
> features that helps the marketeers differentiate the
> product from competitors may be important.

Yes, but all these features are centered around the end-user experiences.

> Meeting a
> market window, being first to market, and so on is often
> critical.

Again, end-user experience related.

> And cramming in features and getting something
> out the door fast is usually in tension with creating a
> good user experience.

I disagree. It is in tension with creating hype, and hype is *not* end-user experience. Hype is hypnosis, which is the opposite of a genuine experience.

> Lastly, I think a real cause of bad software is that
> people buy bad software. If you always being frustrated by
> software, then why are you buying it?

Because it's bundled with hardware. Believe me, if I could, I'd never buy it. But I must. You think I like MS Word and other crap Microsoft is pushing on me? If I had a choice, I'd never pay a penny for that hideous crap.

> I think the answer
> is that, frustration or not, you are getting something out
> of the software that is worth the money and the
> frustration to you.

Not true. The only thing I'm using nowadays is freeware. Because I think all those products are so bad, that it would simply kill me if I had to voluntarily pay for it. This way, I'm clenching my teeth, using the sh*t, but at least I'm not paying for it.

> Over time, the quality of the user
> experience may become more important to customer's buying
> decision, but so far it seems like usability takes a back
> seat to functionality and availability in customer
> decisions.

Software vendors are 'pushers'. They simply push their crap on us, and then get us hooked on the junk they produce. You mention 'customer decisions', but you may have noticed that there barely is such a thing any more. When was the last time you saw a real 'customer decision'? Most corporations are being manhandled by either Microsoft thugs, or IBM thugs, or Oracle thugs, and so on. The most offensive part of it all is that people who are making purchasing 'decisions' are the people who will never be forced to use the junk they are purchasing.

Alex

Bill Venners

Posts: 2284
Nickname: bv
Registered: Jan, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 8:33 PM
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> So, if I for example design a car that has a gas pedal
> where usually a turning signal lever is, and a brake pedal
> where the wiper lever is, some people may say that my
> design choices are "poor". But in today's climate it
> almost seems inevitable that some smart Alec will emerge
> who would be prepared to argue that such a ludicrous
> arrangement is actually an excellent design choice. That,
> or at least such politically correct person may argue how
> the conclusion that having a brake pedal where we
> typically have a wiper control is "poor", is only, or
> merely, a subjective opinion.
>
> But I implore you, gentlemen (and ladies), not to abandon
> your beautiful gift of using your common sense. If all the
> cars in the world already have a gas pedal to the right of
> the brake pedal, common sense tells us that it is
> ludicrous to make it otherwise, or to change it in any
> manner. Not only ludicrous, but downright suicidal. Such a
> fact cannot be relativized, no matter how politically
> correct we resolve to be.
>
One thing to consider when designing a UI is user's expectations and prior experience. But it is not the only thing to consider. I would be unhappy indeed if I got in a car and the brake and gas pedals had switched their usual positions. I suspect most people would be unhappy with that design decision. But the switch to turn the lights on seems to have jumped from the far left dash board to a lever on the steering wheel in my lifetime. That didn't bother me too much. I got used to it. I expect we'd find more diversity of opinion on whether or not moving that switch was the right design choice compared to switching gas pedals. Moving the switch breaks with user's expectations, but arguably has the advantage of making the switch easier to find in the dark. I expect we'd find a diversity of opinions on how best to quote the original post in web forums as well. That one's not so cut and dry in my subjective relative opinion.

Alex

Posts: 18
Nickname: alexbcit
Registered: Nov, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 8:42 PM
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> Perhaps that's one cause of the difference between your
> perspective and mine. I can think of many software
> products that I use regularly that I'm happy with.

<snip the interesting Apple stuff, with which I tend to agree>

> I'm also not too terribly frustrated by my cell phone, or
> my alarm clock, or my microwave oven, all of which are
> running software that interacts with me as a user.

You bring up a very important point (and, again, thanks for being such an intelligent partner in this discussion!)

You and I (and I suspect also the majority of other participants on this forum) belong to a very small, very specialized group of people. This group of people even has a specialized name -- we are actually being called the 'apologists'. We are the geeks and the nerds who are enamored with technology, and we will use any opportunity to defend it and to claim that it's fabulous, wonderful, and so on.

But we should be able to realize that we are just an infinitesimal fraction of the population of the users of technology. We are just a spec of dust compared to the vast ocean of software users out there, users who couldn't care less about technology. It is these people who must be addressed in our software design, not us. And these people are very intolerant towards technology, they are mostly technophobe, and they are pressed for time, so the last thing that's on their mind is being playfull with some crappy software product. They only wish to spend the minimum possible time engaged with using the stupid applications, and then go on with their lives (they actually do have lives, you know!)

So I propose that if we are going to examine the requirements for delivering a high quality software product, we do it from the perspective of a typical technophobe user, NOT from the perspective of geeks like us.

Agreed?

Alex

Bill Venners

Posts: 2284
Nickname: bv
Registered: Jan, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 8:53 PM
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> Software vendors are 'pushers'. They simply push their
> crap on us, and then get us hooked on the junk they
> produce. You mention 'customer decisions', but you may
> have noticed that there barely is such a thing any more.
> When was the last time you saw a real 'customer decision'?
> Most corporations are being manhandled by either Microsoft
> thugs, or IBM thugs, or Oracle thugs, and so on. The most
> offensive part of it all is that people who are making
> purchasing 'decisions' are the people who will never be
> forced to use the junk they are purchasing.
>
You're right that customers often feel they don't have a choice but say use MS Windows and MS Office. I need Windows to run a few apps and do testing, but because of my unusual circumstances was able to use a Mac instead for the most part. But I did get MS Office for the Mac, in large part because people are always emailing me Word and Excel files. But I actually did choose to buy MS Office for the Mac, because despite any complaints I might have about user experience, I am getting something I want out of it. I am able to look at files people send me. And I really haven't had much to complain about with MS Word on the Mac, though I probably only use 1% of its features. Plus I got all of Office for only $50 during a visit to MS.

I have a pet theory about why people choose to buy bad software: Because it is hard for a customer to judge before buying software how good the software actually is, but easier to look at an itemized list of features, that they buy more on features than quality. The problem with that theory is that word (not MS Word) gets around if something is unreliable. But in general I think it's hard to "kick the tires" of software or "take it for a test drive," and that may make it hard for customers to actually make choices they themselves will ultimately be happy with.

Alex

Posts: 18
Nickname: alexbcit
Registered: Nov, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 8:58 PM
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> I am the guy responsible for the design of the site, so
> the buck stops here. Now the last time I looked, all you
> had to do to quote the original text is push a button
> labeled "Quote Original".

Would you believe me if I told you that it took me several days before I realized that there is such a capability built into your product? And I'm the guy who has 15 years of solid software development under my belt! Only goes to show you how lazy we are when in user's mode of operation.

I've fallen into the same trap many times before. I'd bend over backwards to provide all kinds on nice goodies to the end-users, and to place those goodies conspicuously on the screen, only to discover, to my dismay, that they never managed to detect that such things even exist.

People tend to focus on their own inner flow when working. They push aside anything that's not immediately at hand. They want to keep the short term memory buffer humming. That's why they typically never stop to examine the page, to see what's there. Nobody has the time for such 'leisure porn'.

Because of that, goal oriented design teaches that we must support such mode of operation, instead of fighting it. The only thing we should worry about is how to support end-user's immediate goals. Rather than giving users the jolt in the midst of their smooth workflow, we must design products that stay out of the way. Your "Original Quote" button is a jolt to my short term memory. You must realize that when I press the "reply" action, my mind is very focused on formulating intelligible reply. I'm only thinking about how to come up with a convincing paragraph. Anything that's going to take my attention away from that is going to cause discomfort in me. The first time I hit the "reply" on your site, and when I was confronted with an empty canvas, my immediate gut reaction was "the guy who designed this is a complete moron!" No offence, but that's honestly how my reaction to your product was. I was pissed, because I was expecting to see the content I'm responding to ready for me to examine. Now, say what you will, and you may think nothing of it, but I'd say it is highly alarming to provoke such a bad response from the people you intend to serve.

Alex

Bill Venners

Posts: 2284
Nickname: bv
Registered: Jan, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 9:08 PM
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&gt; So I propose that if we are going to examine the
&gt; requirements for delivering a high quality software
&gt; product, we do it from the perspective of a typical
&gt; technophobe user, NOT from the perspective of geeks like
&gt; us.
&gt;
&gt; Agreed?
&gt;
No.

Well, you make a good point that one should think about the typical user and design a user experience for that user. Geek though I may be, I am still human and occasionally get very angry at poorly designed web sites, operating systems that crash a lot, stupid user interfaces and such. I don't apologize for those. They make me frustrated.

That being said, sometimes the typical user is a geek. If you're designing the user interface of a compiler or an IDE or, say, a website for developers, then you're designing for geeks. (Hopefully I won't chase away any users who feel self-conscious about their geekhood.) What if you are designing software for a nuclear power plant. An airplane? Any number of machines for which you can expect users to be trained to some extent.

I think this may be your point, but I would say it slightly differently: You should think about and design for your user, not yourself. That doesn't mean assuming all users are "typical technophobes." It means understanding your users whoever they are.

Bill Venners

Posts: 2284
Nickname: bv
Registered: Jan, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 5, 2002 9:33 PM
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> Would you believe me if I told you that it took me several
> days before I realized that there is such a capability
> built into your product? And I'm the guy who has 15 years
> of solid software development under my belt! Only goes to
> show you how lazy we are when in user's mode of
> operation.
>
I find that easy to believe. One of the things Ken Arnold said in his interview was that most of your users will have only a casual knowledge of your product. That has really been driven home to me. If you look around the Java Answers Forum, you'll see most people don't put the java /java or pre /pre delimeters around their code. I moved the "Formatting Your Post" box up from below even the "Original Message" box over to the left above the fold to try and get people to notice the formatting options. But still most people don't see it. They don't have time or interest in becoming power users with in depth knowledge of this site. I think that's something that is important to keep in mind when designing UIs.

> I've fallen into the same trap many times before. I'd bend
> over backwards to provide all kinds on nice goodies to the
> end-users, and to place those goodies conspicuously on the
> screen, only to discover, to my dismay, that they never
> managed to detect that such things even exist.
>
> People tend to focus on their own inner flow when working.
> They push aside anything that's not immediately at hand.
> They want to keep the short term memory buffer humming.
> That's why they typically never stop to examine the page,
> to see what's there. Nobody has the time for such 'leisure
> porn'.
>
> Because of that, goal oriented design teaches that we must
> support such mode of operation, instead of fighting it.
> The only thing we should worry about is how to support
> end-user's immediate goals. Rather than giving users the
> jolt in the midst of their smooth workflow, we must design
> products that stay out of the way. Your "Original Quote"
> button is a jolt to my short term memory. You must realize
> that when I press the "reply" action, my mind is very
> focused on formulating intelligible reply. I'm only
> thinking about how to come up with a convincing paragraph.
> Anything that's going to take my attention away from that
> is going to cause discomfort in me. The first time I hit
> the "reply" on your site, and when I was confronted with
> an empty canvas, my immediate gut reaction was "the guy
> who designed this is a complete moron!" No offence, but
> that's honestly how my reaction to your product was. I was
> pissed, because I was expecting to see the content I'm
> responding to ready for me to examine. Now, say what you
> will, and you may think nothing of it, but I'd say it is
> highly alarming to provoke such a bad response from the
> people you intend to serve.
>
I like the goal-oriented way of thinking. Your initial experience brings up another thing I think people need to think about when designing UIs, and that's trying to make common things easy, making the initial experience positive, giving a gentle learning curve. But you often have to make tradeoffs I think between making things easy for beginners versus efficient for more experienced people. Now that you've done a few posts, you know about that Quote Original button. You know that you can scroll down to see the Original Message being replied to. You may know you can preview your post before you commit. You may have discovered how to format your post.

If I ask myself who I really want to cater to, it is the people who post regularly. If the initial experience to so awful that it chases most people away, then I'm not going to easily grow my user base. But if the initial experience is tolerable, then I feel I'm better off offering features such as useful formatting options that may actually make things more complicated for first time users.

Alex

Posts: 18
Nickname: alexbcit
Registered: Nov, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 6, 2002 9:56 AM
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> The problem that this illustates is a common one in
> software, I think: the old "You can please some of the
> people all of the time, or all of the people some of the
> time" thing.

Exactly. So, in order to resolve this conundrum, we need to first understand the typical distribution of various types of end-users. Usually, we divide end-users into three groups:

1. novice users
2. intermediate users
3. power users

Now, these three groups are not evenly distributed, of course. Typically, the distribution is in the form of a bell curve, with the bulk of the curve comprised of the intermediate users (group #2). This means that there is, at any point in time, only a small percentage of beginner users, as well as only a small percentage of power users. The rest is mostly intermediate users.

Beginner users (or novice users) are naturally strongly motivated to learn and promote themselves into the intermediate group. No one likes to feel inadequate, so we either force ourselves to learn enough not to be considered beginners, or we abandon the ship altogether.

Sometime, some of the intermediate users will go the extra mile, and invest additional effort in learning more intricate aspects of the product. That pushes them into the power (or advanced) users category. However, if they don't keep up with the latest development of the product, they tend to quickly slip back into the intermediate group.

So both the beginners and the advanced users represent only a small portion of our user base. This means that we can pretty much safely choose to ignore their needs, and focus all our efforts into satisfying the majority of our user base. This means that a well designed software product will be focused on serving the needs of the regular user, the one with the average, or intermediate skills, and with the average level of interest in learning and using the product. Sort of like a "middle of the road" approach.

> Now, perhaps, software being software, it could try and
> intelligently adapt itself to the user. However, then
> you get into traps where assumptions the software makes
> about you are really annoying (especially when you sit
> down at someone else's computer for a moment to help them
> with something).

I agree. If I look at products I like to use (such as my TV set), it doesn't really try to intelligently adapt to myself. Rather, I adapt to it, because I'm strongly motivated to do so. The product itself is never in my way, as it lets me enjoy the content it is serving (i.e. the TV programming) in an uninterrupted fashion. And that's all it is supposed to do. Nothing more. We should design our software products in the same way.

> For example, Windows has a cute feature, where if you
> accidentally press the enter key when you have a
> ton of files selected in explorer, it will proceed to
> execute each and every one of them (or the associated
> app). Some may see this as a very convenient mechanism
> for automating the treatment of a whole group of files and
> would be annoyed by confirmations. Others (like me!)
> think it is pretty ludicrous to automatically launch
> hundreds of unrelated apps simulataneously at the behest
> of an accidental keystroke.

What you've described here is another one of the notoriously idiotic Windows features. No further comment.

Alex

Alex

Posts: 18
Nickname: alexbcit
Registered: Nov, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 6, 2002 10:06 AM
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> > So I propose that if we are going to examine the
> > requirements for delivering a high quality software
> > product, we do it from the perspective of a typical
> > technophobe user, NOT from the perspective of geeks
> like
> > us.
> >
> > Agreed?
> >
> No.
>
> Well, you make a good point that one should think about
> the typical user and design a user experience for that
> user. Geek though I may be, I am still human and
> occasionally get very angry at poorly designed web sites,
> operating systems that crash a lot, stupid user interfaces
> and such. I don't apologize for those. They make me
> frustrated.

When I said we're the apologists, I didn't mean to imply that we'd tolerate any piece of crap. What I meant to imply was that our threshold of tolerance of techno wizardry and gimmickry is much larger than the threshold of tolerance of regular, non-techno users.

> That being said, sometimes the typical user is a geek. If
> you're designing the user interface of a compiler or an
> IDE or, say, a website for developers, then you're
> designing for geeks. (Hopefully I won't chase away any
> users who feel self-conscious about their geekhood.) What
> if you are designing software for a nuclear power plant.
> An airplane? Any number of machines for which you can
> expect users to be trained to some extent.

Yeah, you're right. I'm excluding those areas, and I strictly focus on the business applications, where 99% of the users are extremely non-technical.

> I think this may be your point, but I would say it
> slightly differently: You should think about and design
> for your user, not yourself. That doesn't mean assuming
> all users are "typical technophobes." It means
> understanding your users whoever they are.

Almost all users I've ever worked with, including the high-octane geeks, had low level of tolerance to the technical gimmickry when using a software product. I think we can distil some immutable, highly visible truisms that apply in any situation where the human and the machine interact. I am governed by such truisms in my design.

Alex

Alex

Posts: 18
Nickname: alexbcit
Registered: Nov, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 6, 2002 10:35 AM
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> Now I could add a user configurable parameter that lets
> users decide whether to automatically quote, but I suspect
> most people don't care and most people would never see
> that parameter, so it is not the best place to apply my
> development resources. There are lots and lots of projects
> on the list of things to do, and so I have to select the
> highest priority ones.

Thanks again for pointing to another typical malady that plagues the design of so many software products. The biggest problem is that people tend to make user interaction decisions after the fact. What this means is that they would first sit down and make a design based on a bunch of unilateral decisions, without first doing a proper research. Then they would push such crippled product on their users, observing the feedback. Then, when the feedback arrives, they would look to see if they could retrofit some of the requests into the product. Naturally, most of the requests get to be flatly rejected on the grounds that "There are lots and lots of projects on the list of things to do, and so I have to select the highest priority ones." Good excuses abound.

I tell you, gentlemen, this is the worst possible way to build software. I've been through that process countless times, and I eventually got convinced that it simply doesn't work.

What is needed, instead of the above lame approach, is a comprehensive study that would unearth the typical (or, prototypical) user of the software product we're designing. Once that's done, we must conduct the study that would reveal that typical user's goals. It is then, and only then, that we should be allowed to proceed with the design of the product that will support that user's goals.

What we do instead is we design a product that tickles our fancy, then throw it against the wall to see if it will stick. If it doesn't, we go back and tweak the product, tinker with it, in the hope that it will eventually stick. Isn't that the most childish behavior you've ever seen? And yet that's what 99% of the development teams are doing with a straight face.

It's time we realize that this 'after the fact' approach simply doesn't work.

> I agree with you here, the trouble is that since I don't
> think the correct default is to quote the original text,

If you ever get to the point where you learn how to practice goal oriented design, you'll come to the realization that, since the user's goal is to comment on something someone else had posted, it is the only natural solution to offer the user the original content right there, where he will put his response.

Actually, I think even having the "Reply" action available on the screen is very nasty. As I'm reading someone's comments, and I feel the urge to reply, all I want to do is simply start typing my comments right there, on the spot. I don't want to interrupt my train of thought by having to click on the disruptive "Reply" button, and then wait until the next page loads. My natural workflow gets to be rudely interrupted that way (not to mention the stupid logon page that pops up, really adding an insult to an injury -- anyone who's deemed authorized to read a piece of text should automatically qualify for being eligible to comment on it; don't get me started on that, as I'm fuming even thinking about such nasty and lousy design).

However, since the technology we're using right now (the HTTP) is severely (actually, debilitatingly) limited, I'm aware that realistically such thing would be impossible to implement. But ideally, that's how I would implement the discussion forum.

> Can you point me to some forums where they quote
> automatically?

It should suffice to have a look at the Google groups forums -- the most widespread standard in how to handle the "Reply" action. You'll see that they quote automatically, and that's what most users are accustomed to.

Alex

Bill Venners

Posts: 2284
Nickname: bv
Registered: Jan, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 6, 2002 12:13 PM
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> Thanks again for pointing to another typical malady that
> plagues the design of so many software products. The
> biggest problem is that people tend to make user
> interaction decisions after the fact. What this means is
> that they would first sit down and make a design based on
> a bunch of unilateral decisions, without first doing a
> proper research. Then they would push such crippled
> product on their users, observing the feedback. Then, when
> the feedback arrives, they would look to see if they could
> retrofit some of the requests into the product. Naturally,
> most of the requests get to be flatly rejected on the
> grounds that "There are lots and lots of projects on the
> list of things to do, and so I have to select the highest
> priority ones." Good excuses abound.
>
> I tell you, gentlemen, this is the worst possible way to
> build software. I've been through that process countless
> times, and I eventually got convinced that it simply
> doesn't work.
>
> What is needed, instead of the above lame approach, is a
> comprehensive study that would unearth the typical (or,
> prototypical) user of the software product we're
> designing. Once that's done, we must conduct the study
> that would reveal that typical user's goals. It is then,
> and only then, that we should be allowed to proceed with
> the design of the product that will support that user's
> goals.
>
> What we do instead is we design a product that tickles our
> fancy, then throw it against the wall to see if it will
> stick. If it doesn't, we go back and tweak the product,
> tinker with it, in the hope that it will eventually stick.
> Isn't that the most childish behavior you've ever seen?
> And yet that's what 99% of the development teams are doing
> with a straight face.
>
> It's time we realize that this 'after the fact' approach
> simply doesn't work.
>
It sounds like you are arguing for more up-front design and less refactoring. I agree that designers should think about the user, design for the user, be it a software product or an API or any kind of machine. But I don't think that anyone will ever achieve a perfect design that never needs "tweaking" by doing more up-front planning and research. One very important process I think people should adopt is alway try to improve things, because you will always be able to make improvements.

I'm not sure what process the Jive guys went through to design the default skins, but when I got them I wanted to make a bunch of changes that I saw as improvements. So I made those improvements. I had perhaps 10 people using the site as it was being prepped before it went live, to get feedback from typical users. Had I spent six more months doing user testing, the UI would have been better, but not the business. Most users have seemed quite happy with the forums so far, but I have made numerous improvements here and there in an effort to keep it getting better. You can't wait until a product is perfect for users before releasing it, because it will never be perfect.

Alex

Posts: 18
Nickname: alexbcit
Registered: Nov, 2002

Re: Software Aesthetics and Quality Posted: Dec 6, 2002 1:28 PM
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> No, you're not going to get away that easy. Since we both
> thing usability is an important subject for developers to
> discuss, and since everyone here on this forum by
> definition using Artima.com, I think it is a good
> opportunity to discuss usability with concrete examples.

Just to set things straight, I think it's important to inform you that I couldn't care less about usability. Same as I don't care about the look-and-feel. Both usability and l&f are separate disciplines, that need to be addressed separately. And these are not my specialty. My specialty is goal oriented design. Goal oriented design has precious little to do with usability.

> So please post your critiques and any suggestions you have
> for improvements, and you and I and others can discuss it.
> I promise I won't take anything personally. I truly do
> welcome constructive criticism, and I think it will be
> good way to get some discussion going about usability in
> general.

Your maturity is admirable. I appreciate that, and I encourage you to stay like that. We will all benefit from that in the long run.

> So please fire away!

With all the posts I've written here so far, I have a sinking feeling that I'm talking to the wind. And the reason for that is simple -- I can plainly see that you and the other participants are, to put it plainly, not educated in this area, and consequently cannot really fathom what is it I'm pointing at.

The only way we could have a meaningful discussion on these topics is if I gave you a crash course on the goal oriented design. And for that, I would need an appropriate venue (this forum is not very appropriate, because of various extraneous noises polluting the discussion).

So I was thinking that I should probably embark on preparing an article (or, a bunch of articles) for your education. If you're interested, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to contribute to furthering the education of my fellow designers. I already have a big pile of presentations on goal oriented design which I did for some of my customers, so now it would be merely a matter of going through those summarizing them in the form of an article.

The only issue with that is that currently I don't have an active web site where I could post my material. Any suggestions?

Thanks.

Alex

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