Thanks, User Experience Guys

April 29, 2010

An open letter to all you user experience people…

Dear ,

I started developing applications professionally in 1993. First Mac apps in the glorious 4D programming environment, then Windows, then Web. I’m now kept a safe distance from any development environments and left to do “manager stuff”.

When I developed for the web, I created … let’s just say ‘functional’ user interfaces. My brief forays away from default styling were ugly and painful.

bad ui 2 In fact, I was proud of my utilitarian interfaces. “I develop complex applications. I can’t be bothered with this trivial UI crap. That’s for web guys, I’m a software engineer. I do the hard stuff.”

Fast forward to the last five years, when I’ve been inundated with all this user experience stuff. There was a time when I was proud to not even know what that phrase meant. Now, I’m surrounded … it’s everywhere I look. Jeff Patton, Jeff Atwood, Joel Spoelsky, Eric Sink, coworkers, clients, and even my darling wife.

I grudgingly accepted at first. Even when our clients say “I don’t have money to make this pretty, I just need it to work”, they still want it to be not ugly, not unintuitive.  I get that. Many of our engineers at SEP have real talent in this area and started developing some beautiful applications. I still can’t create anything nice looking, but I get it now.

But there was a horrible, unexpected side effect to this awareness.

I see bad user experiences. They’re terrible. And they’re everywhere.

I see you, terrible, irrevocable button sitting next to that harmless button. I see you (well, I don’t see you actually) feature that I use all the time in application that I use all the time that’s nearly impossible to find. I see you, buttons on my PC that are so poorly labeled I couldn’t pretend to know what you do.

I see you, router configuration software. Every single one of you.

I see you Outlook, asking me to log in five separate ways every time I try to access work email via Outlook Anywhere.

I see you, smart board software with your 50 icons and no hover text. Thanks for not using any industry standard icons. Awesome of you to create all new ones.

I see you, Sirius/XM web pages for managing my account, where I COULDN’T GIVE YOU MY MONEY to turn on your streaming service.

I see you Properties settings, moved in the last version of Word, and moved AGAIN in Word 2010 now nearly invisible:

bad ui 1

I even see (hear) you, astonishingly bad doctors office voice navigation system that made me listen to three minutes of chatter about swine flu vaccinations before I could even hear what the options were. (hint: I wasn’t calling about swine flu)

So thanks, UX people. Really, from the bottom of my heart. I was happily ignorant, blissfully unaware. You’ve shattered that. I hope you’re happy with yourself.