Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do More With Software... In Three Minutes or Less (Part Two)

In Part One, I spoke about how important the first three minutes in a user’s experience with any software are. That expectation has led NCH to focus a lot of attention on what the user’s needs and any roadblocks they might encounter early on. Here are some of the elements we look for in the user experience:

At first glance, the application should have a clean appearance. A screen cluttered by an excess of buttons, panels, options, and graphics is a distraction. Absolutely everything on the main screen should work toward helping the user accomplish their task, and should do so in an organized and hierarchical manner according to the user’s most common actions. Think about a workshop: You keep items you don’t often use in a drawer, while tools you use frequently are hung on the wall in front of you for easy access.

Next, using the program should be intuitive. If you can’t figure out where to start, that is a huge problem. Your frustration builds, and you blame it all on the application. Sometimes using a new program requires the help of a wizard, a quick start guide, or even a tool-tip bubble popping up saying "Start here." However, balance must be maintained. A more tech-savvy person may be turned off by too much hand-holding. In every case, it’s important to know who the user is and what their experience level is.

Finally, an application should do what it promises to do. This sounds simple, yet can be the most difficult part to design. For example, accounting software needs to fulfill a business’s needs, yet accountants are not the people who are writing the code. We need to anticipate the user’s needs and facilitate getting the task done, otherwise users are bound to move on to the next possible solution.

In the end, it is really all a balancing act. But ultimately, the final goal remains—that you will be able to be up and running within three minutes of installing our software. It’s what we care about.

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