I believe I’ve stated before in this blog that at one time while working with some ERP software I became known as the man who “…wouldn’t have designed it that way!” Well, yesterday I saw that same user frustration and amazement (I’m being nice) with regard to an application that my friend was (trying) to use. He was somewhat under the gun to get setup, and the software wasn’t working the way he expected or thought that it should.
Now, I don’t know this friend well enough to understand his computer preferences and depth of experience as an end-user. I do know that he does do professional programming. Perhaps he’s a “Mac” guy trying to run software on a “PC” — but clearly the application software was not living up to his expectation, and he was frustrated. Seeing his frustration reminded me once again of the difficulty which can be experienced when trying to develop that “perfect” application!
It just so happens that the software he was using matches my expectations – I find it easy-to-use, intuitive and structurally together, and therein lies what I’ve come to appreciate as one of the biggest difficulties with creating application software. Yes there are certain “standards” to be used, and using them results in ease-of-use for those familiar with those “standards”. Where application design seems to break down in my opinion is when there is the need to do something “special”, for example use some functionality for which the software is designed, but functionality that is seldom used, “out-of-the-ordinary” in that respect.
It seems to me that these kind of operations just don’t seem to clearly “fit” in any one place, so to get to them a user may have to go to something like “Options”, or maybe “Setup”, or maybe it can only be found through a menu 4 or 5 levels down. Perhaps the functionality is so independent (although related) to the main application that it actually acts as if it were an independent application. These are problem areas for users — and as developers it is important for us to get as much feedback as we can (if we can) regarding where to place access for the “out-of-the-ordinary” functionality.
A well-designed help functionality can sometimes be a support for this — in my experience, forget help in the “manual” — you probably wouldn’t be able to find it if in fact it once existed !