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June 14, 2005  |  Too much of a good thing  |  8697 hit(s)

Although I am inclined to be dubious about anything that even remotely smacks of the touchy-feely, "when seven habits of finding your inner erroneous zones happens to good people from Mars" self-help industry, I have found that the Create Passionate Users site consistently dispenses thoughtful, straightforward advice. The site (is there a book? there must be a book) is aimed at people who have customers -- altough they often talk about software, most of what they say should apply to anyone whose job involves makes customers happy. My high opinion of their site is reinforced by the fact that Jeff Atwood reads and quotes their blog. :-)

I have a few of their thoughts stashed away for later blogging, but for now I am moved to comment on today's entry, in which Kathy Sierra talks about the "Featuritis curve" -- what's the balance between richness of features and keeping things usable? She touches on one of my pet peeves:
My new Subaru factory-supplied car stereo uses that most evil of designs--modes. With so many features to support, they ran out of controls... so every control does multiple things depending on which mode you're in. None of it is intuitive or natural. Lose the manual and I'm screwed. Ten years ago, if you'd told me I'd one day need a manual to use my car radio, that would have been inconceivable. All I want to do is find a frickin' radio station!
Modal UI plagues everyone who owns a DVD player (or of course famously VCRs), a fancy stereo, cell phone, or even a digital watch. Any UI in which you have to "press and hold" a button qualifies. Naturally there is a class of people that revels in the gadgetesque-ness of a camera, say, that bristles with knobs and buttons. But as 98% of the population will eventually bewail, "all I want to do is take some pictures!"

Kathy notes other products that often try to pack in too many features -- not just hardware, but software, courses, and technical books -- the fatter, the better! Only is that really true?

People say that one of the attractions of the iPod is its design, which is simple and uncluttered. It is also, I should note, a modal interface -- what happens when you turn the dial depends on, ahem, what mode you're in.

There's more to say here. (Like, for examle, about how cluttered this blog design is, haha.) But I must run off to FedEx, because the somewhat confusing form they left lying on my porch yesterday suggests, I believe, that they're holding a package for me. Off I go.

PS Beth has an entry in which she slams Microsoft for not being passionate about their users[1]. I can't speak for, say, the security team in the Windows division, but can note that with ASP.NET out as part of the Whidbey beta, we've heard a lot of feedback from people, and a lot of it comes down to this: ASP.NET 2.0 kicks ass. Yay.

[1] Which seems slightly curious coming from someone who is passionate about Java, whose originating company doesn't exactly have a reputation for their openess to the needs of the user base.

Jenny   14 Jun 05 - 10:46 AM

Yeah, I read that particular entry with Beth and immediately filtered out the anti-MS stuff. What she says doesn't surprise me since she is, well, a Mac user. And too, the security issue is an easy target and just as easy to defend with a bit of critical thinking, regardless of one's pet OS. That bit didn't help her cred in my eyes, but hey -- everyone needs their illusions.

However, I do find myself agreeing with the lack of passion for users that she perceives from MS. Shortly after I read her post, I saw another one of those "Our passion, your potential" commercials on TV and had to chuckle. Viewed through her filter, it does smack of conceit a bit. Without her filter, they're just plain annoying because they're like every other corporate message out there: trying to take advantage of the intellectual anesthesia induced by television watching to make, as Socrates would say, the weaker argument the stronger and thus convince me of the company's inherent benevolence. Whatever. Fix the Master Documents feature and wonky lists in Word, and maybe I'll consider buying that bill of goods.

Beth   14 Jun 05 - 1:13 PM

Don't forget to give Kathy some credit for slamming MS too (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2005/06/tell_microsoft_.html); I think her's was much more of a slam, and it did come before mine :-)

Also, I think you're mixing things up a bit. I am certainly not slamming ASP.NET or C# or a "programming language" or even a "programming environment". I don't know enough about these technologies to slam them or even say whether I like them or not. I am only providing my opinion of MS based on my usage of their products - I was a windows user for many years both at work and at home, and felt a lack of passion as a windows operating system user due to the problems I encountered and the lack of responsiveness from MS, both on a personal level and in general.

In fact, I've heard several times that ASP.NET is supposed to be great, and I read a story once about how it was created - a couple of people at MS wanted to build it, management said no, but they were *passionate* enough about their ideas to go off and build it anyway. Then management loved it, and here we are. Seems to me that *that* is a recipe for success and MS management should take note.

One final note: I think you are also mixing up me and Kathy a bit; Kathy's the ex-Sun employee and the one who posts about being passionate about Java. I would heartily agree with you that Sun is not the most "passionate" of companies, especially these days (many of the smartest people I knew at Sun were ditched (or ditched) that company a long time ago). But again, I know very little about Sun beyond my use of Java and therefore will not say more - I've never personally owned a Sun machine, and beyond using Java, the language, don't have that much experience with the company.

mike   14 Jun 05 - 7:52 PM

Hi, Beth -- thanks for your comments and clarifications. It's quite possible I got things mixed up; as usual, I was in a big hurry when creating the blog entry and was being sloppy about reading your(-all) blog. These blogs with multiple authors, they're ... so ... confusing! Haha.

As for MS-bashing, I only keep a lookout because the company is considered such an easy target, but it's one of those situations where no one is passionate about their job or their customer except every actual individual you meet. At least, that's been my experience. A little like being an American abroad -- everyone hates Americans, except, of course, for the Americans they're talking to. :-)