The release of the iPad and the subsequent debate around who would use it and why has me on a personal crusade to design simpler software.
Technology inspires nervousness and fear among everyday users, and frequently, geeks don’t help the uninitiated, as we saw when ReadWriteWeb was mistaken for Facebook.
Prowess with code puts us in a position of power and frequently, we display a cavalier attitude. I myself am also guilty of this. The haughty geek is a stereotype that plays out in film and television all the time, especially as Facebook and Twitter attract more people.
I don’t want to be that stereotype anymore. So, lately I’ve tried to employ a more empathetic attitude toward my design.
This is much harder than it seems though. In the How to Design for the 15 Minutes session at SXSW, Rob Goodlatte (@rsg) of Facebook emphasized the importance of the first-time experience with an app.
This is very challenging because product development cannot detach from the product, so design tends to be done for existing users with less emphasis on the initial experience.
Testing a product works well to capture first-time emotions, but for a small development team, finding testers is a big challenge. On a large team, it can be equally difficult to get real results unless development is present in the room, observing, but not contributing.
As if designing for “not us” wasn’t already a challenge, it’s particularly tough for an existing product because you must balance the investment of learned behavior made by current users with simplicity and ease of use for new ones.
This is a challenge we tackled with our redesign of the internal WebCenter instance. Without testers and user profiling, you really have to make best-guesses and hope everything turns out fine.
You also have to prepare to defend your decisions and recognize the difference between a single squeaky wheel and real loss of functionality affecting a large segment of your users.
Anyway, I think we geeks could all use a dose of empathy (not sympathy) in our work, whether it’s development or support.
Maybe I’m just turning into a hippie in my old age. Years ago, I sat on the other side of this argument, but apparently, the years have mellowed me.
What about you? Find the comments.