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Avoiding the Love/Hate Relationship in Software

April 9, 2008

I had a conversation with Geoff, one of my ACD/Labs colleagues just yesterday.

He provided me with a great quote from a person he was talking to about software and usability.

He said:

"User-Friendly…hrmph…what that means to me is: love it for the first week, hate it forever!"

I think that’s a great quote.

I think usability is incredibly important and should take high priority in the development of a software package.

However, while it is important we can’t forget the term USE in "Ease of Use"

I find a lot of software packages out there that are very pretty, very intuitive, and very easy to use. They make a great first impression. You can use it for few days and fall in love. However, often times what happens is that after a week you decide you want to do more sophisticated things with the software but you can’t. All of a sudden that love, turns to frustration, and sometimes ends up in hate.

I think this is one of the more difficult aspects of software development. I think most Product Managers and developers want their products to be easy to use. But you can’t go overboard and oversimplify.

We went through the simplification process with the development of ACD/1D NMR Assistant. In the very early stages, we thought it might be a good idea to create a 1D NMR Processor Lite for chemists. We knew that 1D NMR Assistant would have the same NMR processing component as ACD/1D NMR Processor. But we also came to the conclusion that the interface and workflow in a duplicated form would not be appropriate for a new market, after all ACD/1D NMR Processor was developed for years with the NMR Spectroscopist in mind as they were the ones using it, providing feedback, and NFRs (New Feature Requests).

So while ACD/1D NMR Processor contains many features we don’t anticipate most chemists will make use of (a quantitation tool, macro capabilities, group macro capabilities, intelligent bucketing, multiple baseline and phase correction algorithms, arithmetic, peak fitting, etc.) we decided to leave EVERYTHING in there. Perhaps 1 in 50 will become frustrated when their software can’t execute a particular function for them, we’re hoping we’ve avoided this issue by including all the features available in 1D NMR Processor within the Assistant package.

2 Replies to “Avoiding the Love/Hate Relationship in Software”

  1. Ryan, very interesting discussion.
    You friend’s perception is very common among software developers. The thing is – developers are by definition are computer experts who, when they understand the problem domain, are going to want as much power as they can get.
    For everyone else, it’s all too easy to not even look at a piece of software who’s fundamental purpose is obscured by layer upon layer of expert features. They just tune out and the only ones who end up using the software and giving feedback are the power users – which unfortunately reinforces the misconception.
    NMR Lite sounds like a good idea. 80% of users only use 20% of an app’s features anyway. Making that 20% work perfectly and leaving out the other 80% altogether is, IMO, a decent strategy to build products scientists will actually enjoy using – repeatedly.

  2. Hi Rich,
    Thanks very much for your comments as they anticipate and lead to the topic of my next intended post.
    In short, I think that the key to adding layers of expert features is first and foremost ensuring that they don’t get in the way of the primary workflow.
    Stay tuned and I’ll provide an example. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback.

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