Monday, October 6, 2008

The difference between solutions from a technical perspective and from a user perspective.

In my daily work I have seen a lot of applications which are brilliant applications from a functional point of view. However, they are build from a technical point of view. What I mean, the application is doing what is should do, but it is not an 'easy to use' application for the standard user. When I test software, I try to test as a user with no affinity for technology. These users uses the software to do their job, not because they like to know all features of the software. For these users, software is like car. They have a driver license and need to drive from A to B. The car should always start and bring them from A to B. Without the need to have knowledge about how the engine is working.

I uses 2 different people in my direct environment as reflection point:
1) My wife. She is graduated at the university but has no affinity with technology. She always stick to the default. She is afraid to do something wrong if she make changes to the default settings. Most settings are to complex, she has no idea what the impact is of changing these settings.
2) My father. He start using a PC 25 years ago with the spreadsheet program VisiCalc. He uses VisiCalc because it saves him time to make financial reports and estimates for his boss. Later on he uses Lotus 123 and currently Excel. However he is still a user and not interested in advanced features. I got a lot of phone calls to assist him with his computer, printer, wireless router and even in Excel.

They both do their job very well and need to use the PC to do their job. When I got question of them I asked my self the question: Why are they asking this question? Why is the software not clear? How can we avoid this kind of questions? Be very critical to yourself to understand the root cause of the question. When I answered these kind of questions I understand why they ask these questions. In most of the situations the application is build from a technical perspective instead of a user perspective.

Example: My father creates an email with some pictures of my son. The email is send but he got an email from my internet provider: The email you send to to big to deliver. My father does not know what to do and pick's up the phone to call me. He has 2 questions: What did I wrong? How can I send the pictures to you? The technical solution is simple, resize the pictures in the email from 3 Mb to 50 Kb. This will make the email small enough to be send successfully. From a user perspective you can ask next questions:

How does my father know when a email message is to big?
How does my father know that you can resize a picture to a smaller format?
How does my father know how to resize a picture?

What can be a solution:
1) Explain the user what the maximum size of an email is and redirect the user to an help file in which is explained how to resize pictures.
2) Resize pictures in emails automatically to a small format before sending. In 95% of the situations, pictures are send for viewing and not for printing. So a resized picture is enough.

Solution 1 is a technical solution, in some situations it will work but still it can be complex for people like my father.

Solution 2 is a solution from a user perspective. My father is not aware that the pictures are resized. He is happy that the pictures of my son are send successfully.

When thinking about the solution you should be VERY critical to find the root cause of the situation. In this case: Why do people attach pictures to emails? Is it for printing or for viewing. In this case I think for 95% for viewing. So 95% of the situations a resized picture is acceptable. From a user perspective the supplier of the email software should improve his software to resize picture automatically and send the original file size if requested by the user.

1 comment:

Robin den Buurman said...

good point and looking forward to reading more posts