Pretend to be the Application

By | March 19, 2009

Many people I know develop personas for their applications and then pretend to be the user.  It’s like method acting for application development.  I think this is a bad idea.  The reason is simple:  Users are random and unpredictable.  They will click everywhere and do every possible wrong thing.

An engineer once argued with me that this is the reason they make “wizards” and lock down the user interface so only one thing is possible. (Hopefully, the correct thing).  However, I find that this makes software that is unfriendly and unintuitive.  It forces the user to figure out YOUR one way to do things and remember that.  Learning and remembering are generally hard for people.  Don’t make them work so hard.  Your application works for them, not the other way around.

So instead, pretend to be the application.  Pretend you are inside of the computer looking out.  When they perform a gesture, trry to ask yourself, “what do you suppose they mean by that?  Why would they click/drag/press/look at that?”  If you go through this exercise, you will notice that 90% of the time, you can perfectly well guess what they mean.  Example:  “Ooooh, I guess they think that is how to delete the widget!”  Now, the next step is crucial:  Have the engineers make that gesture work. Make that gesture do the thing someone would have guessed.  Read their minds and do the right thing.

This requires extra engineering and thought, but the results are quite worth it.  People will think your application is reading their minds.  They will think your application is intuitive.  They will talk about it to their friends and colleagues.  You will sell more and make millions!  World Peace!  Food and Love for all!  Utopia.

So stop pretending to be ONE user.  Pretend to be the application and try to help ALL users.  If you want a design-driven company and all the success it brings, this is one of the things you need to do.


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