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.