All too often, we forget about usability. We get so caught up in fixing functionality and enhancing performance that we forget about the most important part: how easy is it to use this thing we have just created. Sure. That new super-gigantic Humvee will go in any direction you want, can climb a 21-inch vertical, and can pull small houses with ease, but who cares? It drools at the sight of a gas station, it is impossible to parallel park, and most importantly, how do you expect grandma to climb in and out of that thing?
What would grandma do?
Imagine that poor old lady trying to raise her little leg up onto the running board, and then pull herself up into the cab with those little arms. She’s a GRANDMA! She isn’t 20 anymore. Or 50, for that matter. We forget about grandma in our software testing, too. How would she use that application you just made? How would she react to that detailed error message your creation just spit out?
My poor father; he just got his first computer, and I’ve been trying to teach him how to do instant messaging. He knows enough about Windows XP to be familiar with the big ‘X’ in upper-right corner. Click it and everything goes away. But, Trillian is different. In the upper-left of the contact list is an upside-down triangle that minimizes the window to the system tray. Right below that is a little small ‘x’. Unfortunately, that ‘x’ removes your contacts from within your Trillian window. You have to play around in your ‘View’ menu to get the list to come back, again. However, my father doesn’t know upside-down triangles, and he certainly doesn’t know about the ‘View’ menu, yet. He just knows the ‘x’. So that’s what he does. He clicks the little ‘x’. And every time he does, his contacts go *poof*, and he has to call me to help him get his contacts back. My grandmother would do the same thing. I don’t think Trillian did any usability testing on that feature.
What would grandma do? You know that she’s going to want to click the ‘x’, no matter what, because the ‘x’ is what she knows, just like my father. So why not make the upside-down triangle an ‘x’? It can still minimize to the system tray. The ‘x’ isn’t a cast-in-stone rule that the application must quit all-together. If you don’t believe me, try the ‘x’ on your MSN Messenger window. It minimizes to the system tray. Why did Microsoft brake their own tradition? I bet what they really did was a little usability testing, and discovered that new users always want to click the ‘x’. To new users, the ‘x’ is a big “CLICK HERE” sign to make that window go away. They don’t care if it closes; new users just want it to go away. And if she were still around, Violet–my grandmother–would always be a new user when it came to computers. Just make the window go away. Like clearing the dishes after dinner: it didn’t matter if you threw the plate out, just get it off the table.
So, we have this problem. Now, what do we do about it? Ask yourself:What would grandma do? “Fatal error: Userdata insert failed. Connection to database unavailable. \\jedimaster\yoda\greenlightsaber\sqlserver2000 not found.” If she saw that, what would grandma do? Stare blankly at the computer? “Unable to save your contact information. Please try again later.” Grandma can understand that. So, think of your grandma when you test that new application. Think of your grandma when you write your error messages. Think of grandma when you draw pretty graphics or design a button icon. Your program will be much more friendly, and much easier to use. Even grandma could use it. If you need help remembering, put a picture of grandma on your desk at work, right next to your monitor. And if you don’t have a grandma, substitute that sweet old lady down the street that bought all of your raffle tickets when you were 12 and baked you cookies because you were such a good little kid.
What would grandma do? She’d tell you that she’s proud of you, because that’s what grandmas do.
The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent
my employer's view in any way.