The Design of Software (CLOSED)

A public forum for discussing the design of software, from the user interface to the code architecture. Now closed.

The "Design of Software" discussion group has been merged with the main Joel on Software discussion group.

The archives will remain online indefinitely.

Designed for Ease of Use

I was reading a product manual today and the feature I was interested in was described as follows:

"Feature X
Feature X has been designed for tremendous Ease of Use! In order to use Feature X, please take note of the following:"

This was followed be several pages of descriptions of one of the most bizarre and convoluted systems imaginable for an ostensibly simple feature.

This is not the first time I have seen the phrase "Designed for ease of use". It seems like it otly appears just before a description of an interface that is superly broken, poorly thought out, or just plain awful.
Sergio Espinoza
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
 
Slight off-topic, but contrast the http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.79222.9 "Shouldn't spyware be actually covert" bit.

People don't understand computers, apparently.

Some people in that thread say that it is users fault if they cannot operate their computer effectively.

I'd say it was a "not designed for Ease of Use" issue.

Now I think about it, the whole "windows" metaphor, and buttons and all the other standard widgets, just aren't grokkable by my parents.  Maybe a whole new way of interacting with computers (without really realising it) would be better?

Seems that with a comamnd-line, you type in a command and get an answer.  That is interaction that people can understand, even if they can't understand all the questions (or switches or whatnot).

Have we got very far since MS-DOS uses very simple "copy" instead of "cp"?
i like i
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
 
If it was designed to be easy to use the method names and whatnot would probably be mostly self-evident and supporting documentation could be straightforward and adderess common use cases.

I'm reminded of isInteger() and isReallyInteger() and the like whenever I see warnings like that.  Any time the docs are that long and start with a phrase like that it's likely that I want to avoid that class because I'll never remember what it does when I go back to maintain the program.
Lou Send private email
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
 
If they have to tell you it's for ease of use (rather than just show you a picture) that it probably isn't.
<g>


What's happened, probably, is that MARKETING knows that ease of use is important. But development hasn't figured that out.

So, after the crappy product is developed, Marketing slaps on a label of what THEY WANT TO BE ABLE TO SELL, not what they ARE selling.
Mr. Analogy {ISV} Send private email
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
 
Yes, that is my theory as well, Mr. Analogy. That the tech writer noticed how hard it was to use and told the programmers and they said "No way! We designed that for EASE of use." and so the tech writer is using it cynically and the marketing guys are eating it all up. What is the term where you say the opposite of what you really mean for propoganda? Is it 'double-speak'?

i like i, yes I saw that other thread. I understand how on one level it is technically the users fault since they pressed the confusing buttons that were designed to trick them into installing spyware, BUT on the other hand, it seems clear to me that a properly designed system would not allow for such attacks to be made so easily. And it goes without saying that there are no warnings on Windows that it is only for use by technically adept people, instead we hear marketing campaigns showing mom with the kids gathered around the computer able to accomplish great things without needing a computer science degree. So, I think the system is broken. Blaming the user is like saying it is a car driver's fault that the new and defective tires blew out because he didn't check their pressure before driving each time. Yes, technically he could have caught it, but that the manufacturer made a defective product is still relevant.
Sergio Espinoza
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
 
"Designed for ease of use" and "easier to use" are marketing phrases only. In my particular vertical, ALL products are marked this way. But how can they all be "easier to use"? Clearly, someone is lying. And as far as I can tell, everyone in my industry is lying.

A few years back people were claiming ease of use based on the usage of comomon Windows controls (over text based DOS systems). Today, using common controls is a requirement and not an advantage. Yet companies still claim ease of use just because the application is written in VB and uses a common Windows metaphor. These companies are the ones the OP is talking about.

If you haven't looked at any of the Microsoft marketing docs about Inductive User Interfaces you should give them a read. Many developers dismiss it as nonsense because they are too proud to admit that they may not be as effective at software development as they think they are. Others misread them and assume that it is "Wizards" in disguise. This is not so. An Inductive User Interface can be "Wizards" based for complex tasks but doesn't have to be. I for one had an epiphany after reading those docs. I can't tell you how many systems I have been involved with that used poor interfaces and metaphors. I am ashamed to admit that I was part of the problem. Hopefully, I can make up for it...  :)
matt
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
 
sees the following conversation.

Markinting personage to tech writer :"Its to hard to understand what Feature X is and harder to use it.  This MUST be fixed asap."

Tech Writer to Marketing personage : "Ok"

Tech Writer to developers : "Make feature X easier to understand and use and I need it today."

Developers to Tech Writer : "It will take Z months to do and will need to be proritized with bug fixes and new features for a future release."

Tech writer adds "Made for ease of use" to top of section for feature X. Gives updated doc to marketing personage.

Marketing persanage to Tech Writer : "This looks great you really saved the day."
Douglas Send private email
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
 
Is there something else that one could design software for?
Maybe "Designed for Power of use". Then the question: are those design perspectives mutual-exclusive?

Ah, and about the OP: the problem is IMHO that this stuff one not designed at all. Writing the documentation first is the first step of good design.
Astrobe
Thursday, February 17, 2005
 
 
Easy to use is like "low fat" or "low carb". Has no real meaning, so easily coopted by marketing.

Hmmm... maybe I should mark my programs
"Easy to use: Always was. Always will be." <g>
Mr. Analogy {ISV} Send private email
Thursday, February 17, 2005
 
 
Around here we talk a lot about the difference between "ease of use" and "ease of learning". I think the distinction came from reading Alan Cooper.

"Ease of learning" is the kind of thing you want in a kiosk or ATM. Someone who has never seen the interface should be able to walk up and accomplish basic tasks with it. Big buttons, lots of help available on everything.

"Ease of use" is the kind of thing you want in a sovereign app*. May be inefficient to use for the first few hours/days you work with it, but with experience allows you to accomplish tasks as efficiently as possible. Five ways to accomplish any single task, no "friendly" helpful paperclips and dialogs flying in your face, muted colors and small buttons.

* Sovereign app: An application, typically run maximized, that is used for long periods by people who use it every day. For developers, your development IDE of choice is probably a good example.
Chuck Wilbur
Friday, February 25, 2005
 
 

This topic is archived. No further replies will be accepted.

Other recent topics Other recent topics
 
Powered by FogBugz