Archiv der Kategorie: Software

User Interfaces as an act of communication

Even though we tend to com­ple­te­ly for­get about that, soft­ware qui­te often is a means of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on bet­ween humans. I am not refer­ring to the way the pro­duct gets used (and a lot of soft­ware nowa­days is used for direct human to human com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons, be that one-to-one or one-to-many) but rather that the ent­i­re user inter­face of the app­li­ca­ti­on – is an act of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on bet­ween the deve­lo­per or deve­lo­p­ment team and the user. 

The last few years have seen tre­men­dous pro­gress on under­stan­ding what fac­tors influ­ence the expe­ri­ence for the user, and what tech­ni­ques and tools make an app­li­ca­ti­on easier and bet­ter to use. Com­pu­ters as tools have cer­tain­ly evol­ved and can be more effec­tively used. But still, the ten­den­cy is to see the app­li­ca­ti­on as some­thing detached from the peop­le who design and make it. I do not think this posi­ti­on holds true, and we do our­sel­ves a dis­ser­vice if we, as pro­du­cers of soft­ware, do not look at the ent­i­re com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons pro­cess in depth. 

Look at your own expe­ri­ence as a user of soft­ware; I’m sure you can come up with examp­les of soft­ware that tre­at you well: con­si­de­ra­te, poli­te, hel­pful, play­ful. But just as well, there’s bad examp­les I am sure you quick­ly find: obnoxious, arro­gant, dys­func­tio­n­al apps. Pro­bab­ly, the peop­le who autho­red the inter­face and their talent to inter­act with other humans are not so dif­fe­rent from their works.

User Expe­ri­ence desi­gners are using Per­so­nae as a tool alrea­dy; envi­sio­ning typi­cal users and how they would go about inter­ac­ting with the pro­duct. If you envi­si­on tho­se peop­le alrea­dy, think about how you would inter­act with them. Con­si­der yourself as sit­ting with them in a mee­ting or on a date, wan­ting to sol­ve a pro­blem tog­e­ther (and that could be the one that the app­li­ca­ti­on you are wri­ting is to sol­ve) or try­ing to have a good time with them. A good conversation. 

Con­ver­sa­ti­ons and com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons as a para­digm for user inter­faces has ano­t­her inte­res­ting impli­ca­ti­on: that of cul­tu­ral bias and presump­ti­ons. This can be ever­ything from not being able to use lan­guage-spe­ci­fic diacri­ti­cal marks in for­eign soft­ware pro­ducts and lack of inter­na­liz­a­ti­on for date and money fiel­ds to a lack of sen­si­ti­vi­ty in pro­ble­ma­tic are­as (a clas­si­cal examp­le being coun­try flags used as a selec­tor for lan­guage loca­liz­a­ti­on). The­re are cer­tain­ly other ways that we can look at this, like gen­der or eth­ni­cal presump­ti­ons in soft­ware – most stuff we inter­act with still is desi­gned by white men. 

So if we app­ly con­cepts that we know about human com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons to soft­ware pro­ducts, can we gain new insights or deve­lop even bet­ter app­li­ca­ti­ons? Hope­ful­ly. We cer­tain­ly have a new tool chest avail­ab­le: a lot of rese­arch has been done on inter­per­so­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons and rela­ti­ons­hips. We would do well to take that to heart and app­ly it to our work. 

So geht Support nicht.

Ich kom­mu­ni­zie­re gera­de mit einem Soft­ware-Anbie­ter wegen Rück­fra­gen über deren Pro­dukt. Zunächst: Sup­port gibt es per E‑Mail oder per 0900-Num­mer. Das stimmt mich ja schon mal nicht posi­tiv. Aber dann:
In der ers­ten Mail auf mei­ne Fra­ge wer­den neben der genau­en Ver­si­ons­num­mer – kann ich ja noch ver­ste­hen! – auch noch Seri­en­num­mer und genaue Kun­den­be­zeich­nung abge­fragt. Damit man die Anfra­ge rich­tig able­gen kön­ne. Und in der nächs­ten E‑Mail, in der ich auf die Rück­fra­gen ant­wor­te­te, kommt dann

Beach­ten Sie, die kom­plet­te Kor­re­spon­denz immer anzu­fü­gen, damit die Bear­bei­tung nicht unnö­tig ver­zö­gert wird.

Herr­schaf­ten, so geht kun­den­freund­li­cher Sup­port nicht!

European Software

Rea­ding that the Ger­man For­eign Minis­try is about to chan­ge their com­pu­ting desk­tops back from a GNU/­Li­nux-based sys­tem to Micro­soft Win­dows and their Office offe­rings, a thing that has been on my mind for a while comes back again.
I think it would be very worthwhile to start an initia­ti­ve to fos­ter euro­pean soft­ware; I think that whe­re­ver soft­ware pro­du­ced in euro­pe is avail­ab­le, it should be favo­r­ed over other pro­ducts. The­re are euro­pean ope­ra­ting sys­tem ven­dors – espe­cial­ly in the GNU/Linux are­na. Why are they not get­ting the money, but rather the big ven­dor from Redmont?
The­re also is the point that I think par­ti­cu­lar­ly for sen­si­ti­ve infor­ma­ti­on, an ope­ra­ting sys­tem whe­re the code can be audi­ted and traced is a good idea. I am not sure that you should be trus­ting the ope­ra­ti­ons of a high­ly sen­si­ti­ve net­work to a com­pa­ny that is not all trans­pa­rent about it moti­ves, or its poten­ti­al con­nec­tions to the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty in its home country.
I think that stra­te­gic invest­ments would also do won­ders to sti­mu­la­te acti­vi­ty in the soft­ware mar­ket. Working towards the goal of ero­ding Microsoft’s domi­nan­ce would be a good thing in my book. Con­si­de­ring that the­re have been many pushes towards fos­te­ring some­thing like a euro­pean (or ger­man, or bri­tish or …) Sili­con Val­ley, this could just be the way to get the euro­pean soft­ware indus­try to focus on pro­vi­ding com­pe­ti­ti­ve offe­rings for basic func­tio­n­a­li­ty like office and desk­top ope­ra­ting systems.

Software I like: Evernote

I’ve been a user of Ever­no­te for qui­te a while now, and I must admit that I’m also one of the lovers of that ser­vice. It does data sto­rage the way I felt it should be done. You can access your notes via local app­li­ca­ti­ons on desk­top and lap­top, and that works well. I per­so­nal­ly use only the Mac­in­tosh ver­si­on (but that on mul­ti­ple machi­nes) for work­sta­tion use. But I can also access my data via the iPho­ne app­li­ca­ti­on, or with the ever­no­te web app from just about any­whe­re. There’s also a Win­dows ver­si­on avail­ab­le, but I’ve never play­ed around with that.
I jour­nal all the ide­as that are on my mind wit­hin Ever­no­te; that way, I am sure that I have all ide­as that might war­rant revi­si­t­ing at a later point are caught, becau­se it’s just so easy and quick to wri­te them down and have them stored in a way that I can access from anywhere.
I know that the­re are many more fea­tures (uploading PDFs, cap­tu­ring images and sto­ring them, image reco­gni­ti­on and many more), but none of tho­se have pro­vi­ded important to me. The fact that I can get to all my notes from any­whe­re, and with soft­ware that makes using the sto­rage easy and fast – it does feel like it’s a local app­li­ca­ti­on, becau­se it is – that’s what has me convinced.
And the best thing? It just works.
High­ly recommended.