September 19, 2002

Giving the Human Touch to Software

Making too many assumptions about users’ expectations and levels of competence can get software developers into a lot of trouble. Yogita Sahoo tells her own story about designing an application for an industry she was deeply familiar with—but that industry knowledge didn’t keep her from making some big usability blunders.

All the terms used in the above message looked very obvious and simple to my team and me. We took for granted that the rest of the world also knows what a file menu is and that clicking on the top “X” button will close a dialog box. But unfortunately, the hotel employees didn’t know about these conventions. Had we understood that a steward would not be familiar with computer terminology, the product could have been designed to suit a layman’s needs.

You should never try to design for a wholly indeterminate set of users. Your marketing team may add some insight, and a human-factors specialist will also help. You should work with a representative user group that varies in terms of profession, age, and qualifications.

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