The design of everyday things & how software products are still ignoring users

There’s something amazing about coming across people who are truly insightful in their field. One such individual is Don Norman. Years ago, I read his seminal work called ‘The design of everyday things’. You can see more here: http://www.jnd.org/

Now I have to say, I’ve never met Don, but for anyone who cares a whit about the user experience and good design, this book is a must. The reason I bring this up is that I am always surprised how little appreciation there appears to be for usability in the area of software products.

I don’t mean graphic design, I mean getting right inside the head of your user or intended user, understanding what flows and work practices will be most meaningful in a product context and when, often out of ignorance for a certain community of users, vendors design something that will basically alienate the user base.

And so, this brings me neatly to the latest in a long line of offenders in this category… deep breadth, gmail.

Now, I know there are a gizillion people using gmail, among them a lot of very zealous advocates. Plus, it’s not trendy to suggest there could be anything amiss with gmail, in fact it’s gotten so pervasive that the excellent yahoo mail interface has taken on noticeable gmail-esque hues, right down to those oh so square buttons. But… believe me, for a corporate user to not be able to:
sort on the ‘sent’ person, categorize mail into folders (not tags), and most annoyingly of all, be forced to consider mail threads as discussions with no easy way to find specific mails within a thread sent by a specific person on a specific date, it makes serious adoption of gmail nearly impossible in a corporate context.

In fact, I was chatting with one of our sales guys and he tells me he has taken to changing the message title when replying in order to split the mail threads when using gmail.

Absolutely gmail has tons of advantages, SaaS being the biggie, aside from the obvious cost/or lack thereof, but as long as it has an interface that flies in the face of accepted norms & genuinely reduces productively for corporate mail users it will never penetrate the corporate environment.

Now, if you have never felt this pain, indeed many people I talk to haven’t then carry on using gmail, but as long as a huge body of potential users are alienated then Outlook will continue to live a long and happy existence. Trust me, I’m no great fan of outlook but after a full year of gmail as my primary interface, I’m finally back to it as of a couple of weeks ago. Ah, the bliss of actually being able to find mails by sorting on sender and being able to categorize them into folders again… I don’t know myself.

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