Sunday, September 18, 2011

User experience

[We open in a well-lit corporate conference room. A meeting has been running for a while. Lots has been accomplished but time is running out.]

[The door opens and a tall, tow-headed twenty-something guy in glasses walks in, carrying a Mac Air and a folder.]

Manager:
Oh, here he is. This is Richard. I asked him to join us today. Glad he could make it. He's got some great user experience ideas.

Richard:
Call me Dick.

Manager:
Dick's done a lot of seminal UX work for us.

Engineer:
Hey, aren't you the guy who's arguing we shouldn't have search in e-books?

Dick:
Absolutely. It's a lousy idea.

Engineer:
What?

Dick:
Books are the best UI ever created. They've been perfected over more than 500 years of development. We shouldn't mess with success.

Product manager:
Well, this is a new age. We should be allowed to ...

Dick:
Books have never had search. If we add search, we'll just confuse the user.

Product manager:
Oh, you're right. We don't want to do that.

Engineer:
But e-books aren't physical books. They're not words on paper. They're just bits, information.

Dick:
Our users don't know that.

Engineer:
Yes they do! They don't want simple books, they want the possibilities that electronic books can bring. Do you know about information theory? Have you even heard of Claude Shannon?

Dick:
Isn't he the chef at that new biodynamic tofu restaurant in North Beach?

Engineer:
Uhh, yeah, OK. But look, you're treating books as a metaphor for your user interface. That's as lame as using a trash can to throw away files and folders. We can do so much more!

Dick:
You misunderstand. Our goal is to make computers easier to use, not to make them more useful.

Product manager:
Wow, that's good.

Engineer:
Wow.

Manager:
Let's get back on track. Dick, you had some suggestions for us?

Dick:
Yeah. I was thinking about the work we did with the Notes iPhone app. Using a font that looked like a felt marker was a big help for users.

Engineer:
Seriously?

Dick:
Yes, it made users feel more comfortable about keeping notes on their phone. Having a font that looks like handwriting helps them forget there's a computer underneath.

Engineer:
I see....

Dick:
Yes, so... I was thinking for the Address Book app for Lion, we should change the look to be like a...

Manager:
Can you show us?

Dick:
Yeah, sure. I have a mock-up here.
[Opens laptop, turns it to face the room.]

Product manager:
An address book! That's fantastic. Look at the detail! Leather, seams at the corners, a visible spine. This is awesome!

Engineer:
It's just a book. It's a throwback. What are you doing? Why does it need to look like a physical address book?

Dick:
Because it is an address book!

Engineer:
No it's not, it's an app!

Dick:
It's a book.

Engineer:
You've made it one. This time it's not even a metaphor - it's literally a book. You're giving up on the possibility of doing more.

Dick:
As I said, users don't care about functionality. They want comfort and familiarity. An Address Book app that looks like an address book will be welcome. Soothing.

Engineer:
If they want a paper address book, they can buy one.

Dick:
Why would they do that if they have one on their desktop?

Engineer:
Can they at least change the appearance? Is there a setting somewhere?

Dick:
Oh, no. We know better than the user - otherwise why are we here? Settings are just confusing.

Engineer:
I ... I really don't understand what's going on.

Manager:
That's OK, you don't have to, but I'd like to give you the action item to build it. End of the quarter OK?

Engineer:
Uhhh, sure.

Manager.
Dick, do you have the requirements doc there?

Dick:
Right here.
[Pushes the folder across the desk.]

Engineer:
Can't you just mail it to me?

Dick:
It's right there.

Engineer:
I know, but... OK.

Manager:
That's a great start, Dick. What else do you have?

Dick:
Well, actually, maybe this is the time to announce that I'm moving on. Today is my last day here.

Manager, Product manager:
[Unison] Oh no!

Dick:
Yeah, sorry about that. I've had an amazing time here changing the world but it's tiem for me to seek new challenges.

Manager:
Do you have something in mind?

Dick:
Yes, I'm moving north. Microsoft has asked me to head a group there. They've got some amazing new ideas around paper clips.

FADE