The Little Astronaut and the User Experience
Let me share a story. In my early years, I have practically gained the title of The Astronaut in my greater family for that I received a Commodore +4 computer in the 80’s, and members of the family paid visits to see the magic of the little me pressing keys on the keyboard, and they wondered hey, how the hell do you know which key to press? For some, I revealed the secret answering there is a letter or a digit on each, for the others, I kept the secret hidden deep. I confess, I’m not free of the original sin.
In the recent years, my Mom, became retired by that time, began to develop a friendship with computers. This friendship progresses moderately, to say so, and sometimes I feel we make a few steps backwards, but who cares, slow and steady wins the race. Lately she decided to fulfil my request and planned to scan a few old photos. When she finished with the first, she sent it to me in an email. Well, I’m used to receive scanned documents turned upside down, and chances are some family members still think The Astronaut can read upside down, and I keep the secret of the Rotate Image command in an effort to prove I still owe this title for a good reason. Then I realized the photo was only a few kilobytes in size so I decided to ask her to make a TeamViewer session and let me change the scanner’s resolution to a higher value. I explained, the scanned images will be greater in details and we can even print them, what made her interested in this adventure.
Responding to her question, I also explained the scanner software certainly has so-called profiles, groups of scanning settings, each of which tailored to different types of scanned materials like documents and photos. It seemed logical to her, for what I was happy!
So, we opened the scanner software, I discovered its “Scan profiles” option, opened it, and a window appeared with… with a dozen of profiles called Document and another dozen called Photo. With absolutely no differences in the settings. And I clearly heard the sudden deep silence over the line, and in my head as well: Why? Why 2 x 12 profiles? How to choose the correct one? Won’t I be lost here? What if I select the wrong one? Are they really, I mean really, the same? For sure?
To give you a taste of the experience, it looked like this:
Device Profile Name Epson CX3000/DX3000/CX4000/DX4... Document Epson CX3000/DX3000/CX4000/DX4... Document Epson CX3000/DX3000/CX4000/DX4... Document Epson CX3000/DX3000/CX4000/DX4... Document Epson CX3000/DX3000/CX4000/DX4... Document ... Epson CX3000/DX3000/CX4000/DX4... Photo Epson CX3000/DX3000/CX4000/DX4... Photo ...
To present a great example of bad ergonomics, ridiculous usability and catastrophic user experience, the scanner software created duplicates of the profiles for some undiscovered reason (maybe the new Astronaut has been born and has been working for the software vendor, so chances are someone knows the secret), yielding in:
- Uncontrolled cytokinezis of in-app assets.
- Poorly designed interface (1), the first, most accented column contains garbage (for the most users having only one scanner or printer).
- Poorly designed interface (2), the most accented column has insufficient width—the actual scanner model was DX4400, which you can not see in the list until you make it wider, but tell me a novice user being capable of changing column widths or at least thinking of such an option.
Now what’s the lesson?
The first lesson for me, studied already many times, is that no matter what perfect the stuff you create is once the target audience cannot use it. If I get lost in the list of identically named profiles, I will never be dare enough to open one to see the world’s greatest selection of scanner settings…
The second lesson is that watching your users closely may reveal problems you never find in your lab environments, even if you try to make your test environment and practice mimic real environments and users. For example, you simply don’t use the software for such an extended period of time that reveals certain problems. Maybe the duplicated profiles were created on switching to/from daylight saving time or according to whatever mystic logic, twice a year…
The third lesson is that getting more and more usage data from your users may be the key to improve user experience in the future. Imagine getting data from this scanner software like this:
Session-id | Action | Target | Context an-anomizized-id-1 | Open | Scanner Profiles | 24 items an-anomizized-id-2 | Open | Scanner Profiles | 24 items
... an-anomizized-id-1000 | Open | Scanner Profiles | 25 items an-anomizized-id-1001 | Open | Scanner Profiles | 24 items
Sooner or later a data analyst, if you employ one, could discover the strange phenomenon that 99% of your users have exactly 24 scanner profiles. Why? A good question to start it watching more closely what the hell happens there, and maybe a New Astronaut could realize the software should only have 2 default profiles, and a bug duplicates them time to time, thereby discouraging people to use the factory profiles created in an effort to make the software easy to use, and to hide unnecessary complexity…
No happy end?
There is a happy end! We set a good profile as the default, and I began receiving memories in sufficient details. Here’s one showing a young Astronaut:
(Cover image: Wikipedia)