Handicapped Software

[ This post is about software's disability to meet users' expectations. I know you have developed lots of software/applications over your career! Have you ever evaluated them on disability index? No, then read on. "You" = refers to our typical "software engineer" ]

Ever heard someone saying “this software sucks”… I love such moments. It makes me laugh, not for the user, but for the poor developer! Users are innocent, they are not concerned about technical details. A software is there to make life simpler and hide complications of a task. It’s your responsibility to make it intuitive and meet users expectation on first impression, rather showing unnecessary (modal) alert boxes or irrelevant (technical) details. You don’t need to be a Usability Engineer. Just,

  • stand on users’ shoe and think what is annoying
  • don’t take negative feedback as an attack on you and your beliefs.
    Rather it’s a feedback on your understanding about how much you understand your users. In short never reject/resist on feedback.

Nobody hates software more than software developers and nobody distrust software more than software developers. Scott Berkun has written a good post about why software sucks. ( I have heard software engineers saying that they don’t trust online money transactions. Heck !! Do you need President to meet you and ensure? )

Here is what I think you should target as first step:

  • Any tasks that you think user should perform by reading Help/Documentation, MUST be automated.
  • Even an single unnecessary alert box annoys. Features should be available with less no of clicks. Still this is very subjective matter to discuss. A simple guidelines is – only system errors or exceptions should raise alert-box, tiny information should be modal-less dialogs (or like balloon pop-up).
  • users never read entire screen. Default values chosen or default selection of check-boxes makes big difference in a long run.
    E.g. while filling an online form a default selection of check-box “subscribe me for spam mails”. Who does read entire form before clicking submit? None. But it affects your reputation in long run.
  • Never hesitate in picking a useful (cool, awesome, sexy, astonishing, amazing! ) feature from competitive software. Ask a simple question – Does it add value to your product? You won’t like this argument, but this is truth. The success of Web is a tiny ‘view source’ feature. Well, this is a fast moving industry where we learn from other, we improve over time. You never blame the world for borrowing tabbed browsing from Opera (originally by NetCaptor). It’s a matter of accessibility, and understanding what your users like and what they dislike is a key to success.
  • Don’t recruit incompetent programmers, because a incompetent programmer creates two new jobs a year. If you have a few already, either trains them or fire them. (Sorry pals)

- ankit
( and finally, this is a 100th post on this blog. Happy Blogging! )

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