David Scott Kane (no connection) has been recently blogging about unloved software and “bigged us up” as an example of doing it right;
“In my last entry I bemoaned the look of most Micro-ISV software (and some bigger ISV’s too) and how amateur it looked in general. I thought it’d be nice if I showed an example of a product (that I have no relationship with at all) that simply looks well done and balanced. See this link at Evolved Software. As you can see it’s icons are nicely chosen and fit well with each other. It doesn’t bend or break design rules and pretty much adheres to standards. The result is a nice professional and easy to intuit interface. Well done to the developers!” – Scott Kane – “The Recursive ISV”
Needless to say we absolutely love our software and couldn’t agree with Scott more. Our software is so important that I personally spend hours labouring over the user interface; polishing and making sure the “fit” is right.
It’s not just about aligning controls on a form like panels and fittings on a car, but it’s more to do with making sure that you understand the purpose of your software and then create a design that achieves that purpose with as little user input as possible. A design that is efficient and provides the user with plenty of power to accomplish his or her tasks. My software design goal is this: To create a well designed application in my book is one that requires no user manual or instruction. You can simply install it and start using it. Sure the help file is there if you need it, but all our message dialogs are written in plain English and come with intelligent solutions to your problems. Where they don’t, there’s a link to get more help or to chat online to our support staff or create a ticket. All our software is designed with this goal in mind.
I admit it. I hate (yes, vehemently hate) poorly written and rushed software. You know what I mean. You’ve used software that has a nasty interface – controls unaligned, no tab order (so hitting tab teleports the input caret somewhere random rather than the next logical field), no professional installer, software that writes crap all over your windows registry and/or file system, garbled error messages with no further explanation, software that uses icons which may as well be ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, no clear workflow, poor manual and poor after sales support. I can’t help it; software developers who write software like that and ask for any sort of money (including donations) need to be shot. It is quite simply rude to put that dog food on a plate and ask your customer to take it. It’s excusable from students or hobbyists who don’t know better but they should really invest some love in their products. A company that really doesn’t give a monkey about it’s products isn’t likely to care about its customers. Speaking of dog food, there is a phrase – “Eating your own dog food“. This means using the products that you make yourself before giving to your customers. So, our software for making tax returns was doing OUR tax returns before yours. Our software for recording flight paths was recording our flight paths before yours, and our software for doing our accounts was… well, you get the picture.
Most users running Windows are familiar with Microsoft Office, or at least the “Office UI” – a simple form with a menu bar (File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, Tools, Help), a few basic and easily understood icons for making and saving files, a clear work area and a status bar on the bottom of the window. If you design your software to “fit” the flow of software that your user is likely to be familiar with you’ll have a much happier user who will make fewer support tickets since they automatically ‘know’ what they need to do to make your software do what they want. Microsoft Vista has a similar UI to XP but introduces alpha-blended icons and ribbon controls. Just like XP, in a few years when everyone is fully familiar with Vista it will pay dividends to have your software written to look like Microsoft themselves made it. The key point to make here is that a developer who maintains unpolished software and doesn’t adapt it to meet the needs of the customer doesn’t love their software.
Evolved Software Studios
Speaking for Evolved Software Studios, we have no outstanding bugs (“Club 0” baby, yeah!) on any of our products since we like to release early and release often. We have an automated release procedure which pretty much ensures that we can get automated builds created and tested within an hour. We have a beta tester programme (contact me if you’re interested). We have a pile of feature requests for all our products and we prioritise them depending on customer need. I ask you, why does it appear that some other developers cannot do the same? I should add at this point that if you are one of our customers and want to log a feature request or report a bug, you already know what to do 🙂 [http://www.evolvedsoftwarestudios.com/help]
So when you’re looking for a software vendor to make your next software investment, ask yourself – how much love and passion went into the creation of the product?
Lots of love,
Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines: http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa511258.aspx