Sharp Blue: Delighting users


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On Tuesday, I was talking to some users of one of my main applications at a meeting that was partly training and partly requirements analysis for a new version. In a sudden flash of inspiration, one of them came up with an innovative idea that would streamline one of the key processes and greatly reduce the error rate. She couldn’t quite see how it would work - and nor at the time could I - but it was immediately obvious it was such a great idea that the user interface to that part of the system should be scrapped and replaced by an entirely new version. I’ve been working on this particular system for years now - it was my first large application - but I’d never even considered anything like this approach.

This afternoon, I wandered over to her office to demonstrate a prototype of the new user interface, and even though it doesn’t quite work yet she was delighted by it. For me, delighting users is one of the most enjoyable and important parts of being a software developer. It usually happens when a user and I are working as a team and jointly inventing things better than either of us could imagine alone. Indeed, I think that really listening to users is one of the most important things for a developer to learn: no matter how confident we are of our abilities and insights, users sometimes just see things that are entirely invisible to us. (And they almost always see user interface flaws with total clarity: there’s nothing like first showing an application to users for teaching humility…)

If you’re a programmer and you’re not regularly delighting your users, you should ask yourself why not. And, considering things from the other side, if you’re buying critical applications and the vendors never delight you, you should probably worry. If software isn’t delightful, it’s flawed.

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