When the business model doesn’t match the user experience or… when nobody seems to understand what the business model is, the designer can’t know if they are helping or hurting the company by creating a better experience for the user.
I recently posted a quote from Steve Ballmer discussing a key difference between Apple and Microsoft, which I titled A Complete Experience. Having spent a bit more time thinking about it, I thought I would capture some of those thoughts here. This is basically a brain-dump, so it is by no means comprehensive, or for that matter a fluid discussion.
For Ballmer to claim that Microsoft is committed to choice doesn’t match their past business practices. I’d love to see them truly commit to changes that support real user choice and a better end-to-end experience. The subtle knock of Apple (a “narrow” experience) is to be expected, though again it stretches the truth.
OS X, Apple’s computer operating system is not as broad as Windows in terms of configurations and options (six versions of Vista to choose from – two for OS X, one of which is targeted for servers – no confusion there), but that’s a very good thing for the people who buy and use computers. Windows provides every possible configuration option just in case one person out of 10,000 may want it. That’s pretty cool, except for the fact that it often clutters the experience for the other 9,999 folks.
Apple has gone the other route, making a vast majority of decisions for the users – focusing on normal people instead of edge cases. Power users can dive into the command line and utilize the full power of the BSD subsystem. They both have to strike a balance, but have chosen vastly different ways to do it. I’ve come to love Apple’s way of doing it.
If the experience were truly “narrow”, you wouldn’t have the wide swath of user types – students, lawyers, parents, kids, entrepreneurs and hard core developers. That last one is important – many dedicated techies who write programs and Web applications that millions of people use day in and day out switched to the Mac. These are the people most likely to tweak their system, to be that one out of 10,000. They chose the focused end-to-end experience over the bucket of options.
The experience is so much smoother on the Mac and my levels of frustration are amazingly low when I work on my computer. Hell, frustration doesn’t tend to crop up very often. I should say that my level of contentment and the occurrences of elation are rather high compared to any other product or service that I use on a regular basis.
In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience.
The quote is from a memo that Mr. Ballmer sent to Microsoft employees this past July outlining the company’s strategy for 2009. Aside from the not-so-subtle “narrow” swipe, it’s a concise summation of why so many of us have switched to Apple products (not just the computer) after years, if not decades using PCs running Windows.
The experience matters.
Everyone seemed to have their place in the project life-cycle at the web design agency; everyone but little Findability. Occasionally someone would notice his value to a project, but instead of giving him the care he deserved, they’d just fork over copious amounts of cash to ship him off to his sketchy uncle SEO, who tied him up and fed him keywords all day long. He spent so much time at uncle SEO’s that everyone started to think Findability was SEO, and subsequently became a little dubious of his importance.
Aaron’s article, Findability, Orphan of the Web Design Industry is a great reminder that we should not overlook the importance of findability, nor confuse it with SEO and usability as we create our designs and interfaces.
Chris Messina has posted a great entry discussing the problems with open source design, with a focus on the new administrative interface for WordPress 2.4, which is generating a lot of discussion now that it is partially implemented in the nightly releases. As an avid user of WordPress and occasional plugin developer, I’ve been following the discussion from afar and fully agree with Chris that it is much too early for the design to be judged.
Hopefully Chris’ points about a lack of a visible design owner will be noted and acted upon. The project needs a strong, authoritative voice that can answer the design questions, lead the discussions and gather ramblings, compliments and complaints for future revisions. I fully believe the WordPress team has all of these issues covered, they just need to communicate it a bit more and demonstrate that they have it covered. We as a community also need to trust that they know what they’re doing – we are using their software after all, and judging by the amount of sites running WordPress, and the amount of people theming and building plugins for the platform, I’d say it has a loving community.
One of the first steps to resolve this issue is purely communication. I think it incumbent on the designer/dev team/Matt to release the final approved comps of the design, if for no other reason than it eliminates the uninformed complaints and can guide the conversation towards useful feedback. If people are going to take issue with the design – and people always take issue with design changes – they should at least see the plan in full, and there’s no reason to wait for final implementation for its debut. People love WordPress, and this is a major change; humans tend to dislike change when the object being modified is something with which they are comfortable. Doubly so when the changes are unknown.
Right now, all folks see is a Frankensteinian beast where once there was a well-known friend. Assuaging the fears is as easy as a quick post of a few screen shots, and a couple of words to describe the changes.
Scott Stevenson provides a very interesting essay, Satisfying UI Design is Often Illogical, discussing the impact and need for UI changes and the expectations of and reactions by the market to those changes. The entire piece is well worth a read by anyone interested in design and user experience, with many valuable insights. One of my favorites though is encapsulated in a single line: “The real goal is user satisfaction, and some of that is really illogical and messy.”