The difficulty with software seems to be that it is never ready. It is soft, intangible and the possibilities are unlimited. One can ask for the world, but everyone’s world is different. To make sure software is great, it should be designed keeping its users goals in mind. Designing for goals in a given context makes it a lot easier to design it the right way.
Last week I saw another example of this, it may look simple but I belief it is a small example of a bigger truth. In our product there are a set of searchboxes on the left -hand side to quickly jump to, for instance, an item code. Let’s say you are looking for more information on the item SYN0000 (it is one of the products you sell). You got the code in an e-mail from a colleague and you want to look it up in Exact Synergy Enterprise. So double click it, please try.
If you do this in Windows it will help (??) you by also selecting the trailing space behind it. Our product used to search for the item code including that space, hence it found nothing. So it was decided (as a reaction to customer feedback) to support you by ignoring that space. Now my actual story starts, it is not about how to solve this problem best, but about what happened after the change (cutting off the space at the end).
During one of our feedback rounds with customer stakeholders it was found out that an undocumented feature of our product now was broken. The search allowed you to enter only a space (‘ ‘) and if you would search, then you would get all items in result. By removing the space, as was requested earlier, it searched for nothing now. So a report was entered to fix this. Without any reason why: just fix it. It was first rejected. I can partly understand why: who would like to search for everything? That is not ‘searching’ but just ‘data browsing’ for which we have nice overviews with much more convient options. Which customer would like to walk-through all item data in a search? It was more work to re-introduce this and it looked like there were better alternatives; so the report was rejected.
Only then the context came in, as quite some customers seemed to have discovered this feature to easily see everything, and were quite content with it. People used it for instance to walk-through the documents created during that day within the company. So, to stay informed about all the work their colleagues were doing, searching in this way helping them to be informed and serve their customers better. With the context it was crystal clear this needed to be supported.
Adding context has two great benefits: it creates clarity and helps people to understand the real issue. And secondly and as least as important: we learn more about the actual usage of software. And that is essential to make people benefit from it even more.
Photo credit: emagic