Category Archives: User Interface

Software and Fashion (really?)

I haven’t met many software people who followed fashion, in fact many of them despise it. So several times I’ve heard why: fashion is so superficial and dealing with such shallow things that is not the thing for a geek spending hours in front of the computer trying to optimize loading data from the database with the new and cool ORM, or trying to figure out how to fix a security vulnerability in an Internet Banking application.

I’m not so sure this is right, not even sure it’s a good idea to think this way. Because building software is much like fashion design.

What? No way!

Adopting a great clothing style creates a wonderful image of yourself in the eyes of the others. No need to tell anyone how important is to dress up for the occasion, but let’s try to figure out what’s really going on.

Fashion

Fashion

Dressing up, having a nice style as well as being in fashion has a big impact on the people you interact with. Remember the seeing is believing saying? Seeing has an insurmountable psychological power on an individual because perceptions are built upon data sent by the senses (and sight is quite important among the others). That’s why people easily believe what they see. For example, it’s been quite hard to accept that the Sun is not actually moving around our planet as it looks like, but the other way around. And humanity accepted that, again, after seeing it using telescopes. What we see is utterly important and hard to ignore even if judgement dictates otherwise. So this may be shallow, but that’s the way we function and going against our nature is not feasible in every circumstance.

Geeks can dress up their software instead

Now it’s true that not many programmers go out much in a sense they need to create a good impression by using the latest and trendiest fashion outfits. So I agree fashion may not always serve them unless they take to a more un-geek career that requires relating with people a lot, managing, selling stuff or something similar. Spending most of your time in front of a computer makes fashion pointless.

However I want to point out that the geekiest of geeks that may live in a basement and spend 99% of their time in front on the computer screen still interacts with the world through the product of his/her work — something we normally call software.

The software product is my social outfit

We build software for users. Sometimes they are corporate employees, sometimes they are homeworkers, single moms or rebel teenagers. But they will almost always judge us by the software we’ve built for them. The same as folks on the street may judge us by our clothes.

Being out of fashion in software may be dramatic as users would part their ways. So what I’m trying to say here is that building software may have a lot more in common with being a fashion designer than we may have previously thought.

Software too is a matter of image.

Mobile Flash and the Sensory Experience

Having more features for your consumer oriented product doesn’t necessarily sell better. It will make it look nice in a comparison chart, but that advantage is not bound to last. The customers will form their own opinion as soon as they start using it and if they hate it everyone else will know in a press of page reload on Twitter.

How’s a device good?

fritz höger, kirche am hohenzollernplatz, berlin 1930-1933 by seier+seierTo be good means to be liked by the consumers. To be great — it has to be loved. But thinking for a moment, how do people begin to like a device, a smartphone for example? A person would normally first see the device, then touch it and interact with it. So the first steps towards a good impression is the looks and the feel.

I would go about the same way in what concerns software. Liking it means it should be beautiful and it should feel nice. That is to say the User Interface is the major player in assessing software quality.

Mobile Flash delivered a bad sensory experience

Recently Adobe announced they would discontinue development for the mobile Flash Player. This is the end of iOS doesn’t support Flash argument and the victory of the end-user positive experience. The Flash player performed poorly on mobile devices and was not ready for the touch screen interaction. Steve Jobs had foreseen this and pointed these issues in the famous Thoughts on Flash letter.

Bottom line is that a poor feature can hinder the overall user experience with the device. Thinking for a moment we can clearly see that web browsing is a fundamental activity for a smartphone/tablet user and most of the websites have Flash banners. Not even wishing to see the rich media that Flash exposed on the Web, users would be annoyed by a sluggish device.

So Android didn’t feel right because is was slow while the iOS device felt great because it was very responsive. And since humans form perceptions using the sensory information they extract using their senses, like vision, some of the Andriod users would form a negative perception and yearn for the beautiful iPhone.

Software is great if the UI is great

This is not novelty whatsoever, but there are so many companies out there that build sheets of features instead of good software that sometimes I’m ashamed to admit I’m a programmer. This is the same as boasting a certain device supports Flash.

The main thing for consumer oriented software is to be perceived well and then to get the job done. No one really cares about the little extra features most customers don’t even use. No one wants the features that are so hard to use they even cause more frustration than if they hadn’t existed in the first place. And no one could care less about the database or so-called technologies employed to build the software.

Unlike programmers, users have no grasp of the internals of software, just as us, humans, when we interact with each other, we note our external looks, language and body language or we exchange feelings. But we rarely note the internal state of each other’s bowels in a middle of a discussion. We just can’t notice these details using our senses and, because perception is made out of sensory information, we can’t build perceptions of such hidden things.

Users work with what they can see and feel. If the application is ugly or slow, it leads to the creation of a negative perception in the mind of the users. This is very difficult to overcome, even well featured software may find it hard to fight such a negative perception and on the long term, users tend to switch to other solutions as they become available.

Beautiful, simple, fast, obvious and friendly, these are the qualities that software needs to expose before implementing tons of features just to overcome their competitors. This is what less is more means in this industry and this is why Apple is so loved by the consumers.