Re: [NYT] Microsoft Relies Again on Inner Circle

From: Eirikur Hallgrimsson (
Date: Mon Apr 23 2001 - 12:37:53 PDT

A big second to Steve Bush's comments on usability testing.

There's just nothing like watching people try to use your product.

The Contextual Inquiry piece, watching customers in their own environment,
can be even more priceless, even in a more informal sense. I think it's
something that every software engineer should do fairly regularly. As a
manager, I've tried to send even the most junior people out to customer sites
(frequently hand-carrying a beta release or a bug fix). This often takes
even the most hardened and narrow-minded person from "Why the heck should we
add this dumb feature?" to "Here is the list of things that I want to
implement to remove roadblocks and improve usability/workflow as seen at
customer site foo."

The point about Microsoft Bob is especially important to me. I've come to
believe that there is a certain inherent complexity to most non-trivial
computing tasks. You can greatly simplify things that are absolutely
standard for all users all the time, but if you try to make the entire
interface that way, all users will find things that they can't do at all, or
are very annoying after you've used the system for a week.

Specious examples: An airline reservation clerk (or travel agent) doesn't
need beginner ease of use as much as an efficient expert mode. Ever looked
at the screens and commands they use? Pretty cryptic, but fast. The contra
example would be a web site for consumers to book their own flight. I think
that would need both modes, actually, so that people who live in the air
can bypass the handholding.

I've been seeing this as my mother edges-into using email. I think I made it
too easy for her by placing single-click buttons in the "drawers" of the
MacOS Classic interface. That has caused her not to master the distinction
between the select and open gestures in the Mac UI. I love the button/drawer
combination and it's easy to get a beginner to launch an app that way, but
it's not consistant with the rest of the model--and I think that
communicating the model is the most important thing you can do.


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