Monday, May 5, 2008

Think of the User...Please!

I had a terrible user experience last week. I realized that our video camera’s memory was almost full, and decided I’d download the videos to our family server. Now, I’m not the most technical person on the block, but I have previously been successful in transferring pictures from our standard camera, and I’m pretty adept at managing standard software packages. Plus, the video camera is from a reputable brand and purchased in the last 12 months. Surely I’d be able to figure this out – after all, it’s a consumer product right?

45 minutes later, I still hadn’t downloaded a single video. Why? Because the software didn’t work the way I’d expected. I had dutifully looked over the instructions, plugged in the connections, started the application and opened the lens cap when prompted (Sidebar: Why would you need to open a lens cap to transfer video? It’s not like the camera is beaming the content to the computer….). Then, I was presented with what looked like a reasonable set of choices:
1. Edit/copy video
2. Edit/copy pictures
3. Settings
4. Close
It seemed pretty clear to me. So I clicked #1, reviewed the videos, and selected one. Then up popped a confirmation: Copy video to c://blahblahblah…? Wait, when did I select that folder? Where is that folder? Is that on the server or on my desktop? Oh no, am I about to lose my only copy of 6th grade band playing “Hills of Kilimanjaro”?

To be safe, I cancelled the confirmation and looked for a place to change the folder. No links on the screen to change folders or create new. Still thinking logically, I went back to the Settings link, thinking I could set preferences there. I found an option (good…) which then took me to the root menu for the computer (not so good…) and made me scroll up/down (really not so good…) until I landed on c://docs and settings (yay!). But once here, there was still no way to select a sub-folder, or create one! Frustrated, I ended up quitting the program, creating a new desktop folder, going back into the annoying scroll screen to select the folder and FINALLY TRANSFERRED THE STUPID VIDEO (/rant).

Now, I work in the software industry. I have a fairly high tolerance for figuring things out when they don’t work the way I think they should. But I have family members who don’t work in this space, who would have needed the geek squad to make this application work. There’s a reason why people left the VCR clock blinking at 12:00, and why the vast majority of digital pictures stay in the camera. The interface didn’t work the way people expected to.

It’s easy to assume that the people who will use your technology are just like you and approach problems the same way. But unless you are working with a highly structured process, there isn’t always one single flow that will apply to all users. It takes talent to make a user interface that is simple, and more importantly, follows a user’s mental model. The best designers get out of their design environment and test with all sorts of users. The content that comes from user feedback is really valuable. It gives designers and coders a better understanding not just of the requirement, but the reason why the requirement is needed. Regardless of the role you play in developing a product, the more you invest in knowing your user, the better the chances for a successful customer experience.

[Photo credit: Basial]

No comments: