Improving the Core Usability of Software

22 June, 2011 § 1 Comment

What do you mean the software is confusing? We just added a new feature to the software, can’t we fix it in the next minor release? If we stop and fix it, will we slip on feature X? If we leave out that feature, will the users still purchase?

Often times, these are the questions thrown around when usability concerns are brought up. When these questions begin, it is easy to tell that the discussion of the software usability is quickly getting thrown out the window.

It is now 2011 and development teams need to fully understand what it means to implement a feature. In the early 90′s software could ship and if it wasn’t that usable, the customer would purchase and live in suffering. There is too much competition to continue that trend today.

Sometimes it is the little (or major) tweaks that can make or break the user experience. The ROI on user testing is huge, and it may take a team multiple releases or sometimes infinite to understand this.

A Quick Story

I begin with a story of a customer in a rush. This customer, lets call her Jo, uses Amazon frequently, and just got off the phone with her mother. Her mother’s birthday is coming up and Jo forgot to purchase a gift, but she is in a hurry (as always), and needs to run out the door to get to her 8 a.m. Monday meeting.

Jo logs on to Amazon, finds a nice little trinket and goes to check-out. She wants to purchase in the morning to make sure it gets shipped same day. If she doesn’t purchase before she leaves, she won’t have time until after work.

Quickly, Jo adds the trinket to her cart and is off to check out. But wait, the site wants her to:

  1. Log in (30 seconds)
  2. Select her mailing address (10 seconds)
  3. Choose her credit card (10 seconds)
  4. Confirm her order (15 seconds)

That’s a total of 1 minute and 5 seconds, probably 1 minute too-many. Jo jumps in her car and is now off to work in a hurry.

Amazon 1-Click

What if Jo could have purchased the trinket in only one click? She could have saved that painstaking minute and been on her way to work. Amazon 1-Click solves this, and it wasn’t easy. Amazon had to do a ton of work to make purchases non-atomic, as well as keeping them just as secure as they were before.

What does this mean?

While Amazon 1-Click sounds like a new feature, Amazon simply improved the core usability of their product. Making good software isn’t always about supporting the newest standards or adding more features, sometimes it’s about making the ones that you already bought into better.

I’m currently working on a couple bugs in Firefox that probably won’t be advertised in our next release, and that doesn’t bother me. I hope to increase the clickable area of the back button as well as add support for using the video content area as a giant play/pause button with the HTML5 video tag.

What are some things in Firefox (or other software) that you think could be improved?

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§ One Response to Improving the Core Usability of Software

  • A.J. says:

    Hey Hey Jared! I totally agree that more difficult software was ok for the 90s but doesn’t hold true for today.

    I’m glad Amazon’s 1-Click solves problems for many! I, however, have had no problem going through the few pages of options and for the foreseeable future I plan to continue doing so.

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