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Love/Hate Continued…

April 10, 2008

To follow my post from yesterday, Rich made a very interesting comment that I was hoping to address in today’s post.

He suggests that perhaps a NMR Lite would be a good approach. I gave reason as to why we didn’t take that approach and strip away existing features from 1D NMR Processor when developing the processing component in ACD/1D NMR Assistant yesterday.

But Rich makes a very good point in his comments:

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.

For me, the key is to make sure that all these features don’t get in the way of the primary reason someone is using the software. I
don’t have a problem with a wealth of features as long as it does not interfere with the main workflow.

Cathy Sierra is a blogger that I dearly miss for her daily insight on how to “create passionate users“. Here’s one of her takes. Specifically I like:

One of the themes I heard over and over at ETech and SXSW (Jason Fried, Craig Newmark, and others) was the developer mantra of “get out of the way.” In other words, build the thing so that it stays the hell out of the way and lets the user get on with what they really want to do.

So as an adaptation of Rich’s comment. Make the 20% REALLY clear, and hide the other 80% but still offer it.

I’m not sure it’s the perfect solution, but I think it’s a different approach.

For example, here’s the first thing a user will see when they open a raw data file in 1D NMR Processor:


On the other hand, here is ACD/1D NMR Assistant:


Of course you don’t want to create an environment where a user is drilling through menus looking for useful features, but we do provide users with the ability to hide or show toolbar buttons and action buttons on the interface so they can choose the interface most appropriate to them which can be altered as they get more comfortable with the software.

What do you think Rich?

Anyone else have an opinion they want to share in the comments section?

5 Replies to “Love/Hate Continued…”

  1. I can completely understand the desire to give users a wealth of features to work with. On a basic level, it seems like the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes the wrong thing to do.
    Consider: every non-core feature that goes into an app not only needs to be carefully designed and created, but also tested, debugged, and maintained over the app’s lifetime. This sucks up precious time, from developers on down to salespeople, and it takes money. Both costs can be substantial over a product lifetime. It also takes machine resource, something that users bitterly complain about but usually feel powerless to change.
    Most importantly, it’s almost impossible to hide all those extra features well enough that the really useful stuff stands out.
    Less software means more time and resources to focus on what your users actually need. Much easier said than done – and a hard lesson to learn.
    I would yank out any feature not being used by every single user of an application and keep it out until it can be proven to be absolutely critical. You may end up with a completely different and totally unique product that does one thing very well.
    More than one company has built a fortune around that idea…

  2. I agree that design is the key here. Rich, you say that it is nearly impossible to hide all those extra features well enough that the really useful stuff stands out. My opinion exactly. So design is the key. I think it can be done.
    Microsoft Excel is a good example. Tons of features in there that I never use. Would I want them to take them out? Some of them, maybe. Do they get in my way? Not really. I think the U.I. is designed well enough that I can get at what I want and get out quickly enough.
    Really the ultimate goal is to capture the most users. If you can balance the design so that the main workflow is easy and uninterrupted, and you can have some extra functionality so that the more advanced users are still happy, I think you can strike a very happy medium.

  3. I think one more point that shouldn’t go unmentioned is one of upgrading from both a financial and technical perspective.
    If we make a 1D NMR Processor Lite for Chemists and a suped-up 1D NMR Processor for more advanced users, what happens when the chemists become more advanced and they want/need those features we ripped out? They’d have to pay an upgrade fee to get them.
    Of course we could be really nice and provide these upgrades for free, but even if we did there’s another problem.
    1D NMR Assistant is generally sold to groups of open access chemists. In many organizations there are many IT restrictions and testing policies that need to be obeyed. As a result upgrading software is not as easy as we would all like it to be. The less you need to upgrade the better so it seems.
    You make an excellent point about the need to test, debug, upgrade, and maintain features various features and the more there are the more difficult it is.
    I think we were fortunate that the processing backbone of 1D NMR Assistant is very mature and the majority of those features have been available for years and years so I am confident this isn’t much of an issue. If we were starting completely from scratch, I think the KISS method would be more appropriate.
    Although thanks for pointing this out as it will force us to think long and hard about what gets added to 1D NMR Assistant in the future vs. NMR Processor for example.
    Interesting debate indeed!

  4. As a power user I want the power but as a poor overworked spectroscopic I want the simplicity. The trouble with easy is that it is subjective quite often I have shown people how to get the best out of the software for them to say “that’s not as hard as I thought in fact it is quite easy I will remember how to do that next time” . Well in my experience the chance of them remembering rapidly diminishes over several days. I know if I do not reuse unfamiliar software within a relatively short time I will forget how to use that particular feature (possible senior moment :0) ) Which brings me to my point I love the power of Spec manager but at the same time I do not want it to stop my work flow; that is make it intuitive so if I forget it is not to hard to regain the lost knowledge.

  5. Hi Malcolm,
    I think that what you speak of is a very common challenge that many people experience.
    I hear it a lot from customers about our databasing utility, or prediction training for example. Everyone learns how to do it the first time, and usually realizes the value…but if they don’t use it for awhile they forget. And if it means going back to the manual to get a reminder, more often than not it just doesn’t get done.
    Ease of Use is absolutely subjective. That is what makes implementing it into a software package such a challenging endeavor.


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