Who Determines Your Workflow?
I've been following a variety of interface discussions around the web lately—some dealing with Accordance and some involving a debate about Windows Bible programs. The interesting thing to me about these discussions has been how the various participants understand workflow.
One Bible program has an initial workflow which is very easy to grasp and very pre-determined: do a broad-based search and then start drilling down through various resources. This approach seems to resonate with some people because it presents them with a lot of information and makes them feel like they're engaging in deep study. Yet upon closer inspection, the workflow has a number of drawbacks.
First, the global search results are the primary interface element, and the text of the Bible is actually secondary, relegated to a corner of the screen. Rather than constantly branching out from, and going back to, the Bible text, one finds oneself constantly branching out from and going back to the search results. Second, a variety of common Bible study tasks are presented as a dead-end rather than as a continuous option. For example, if one wants to view a number of Bible texts and translations in parallel, one branches out into a parallel view which has its own set of quirks and which is not easily customized. The net result of this approach to interface is that one constantly ends up going back and forth between various pre-determined views and layouts.
Finally, the we-know-what-you-want-better-than-you-do approach ends up bogging things down, because the program is constantly trying to do global searches rather than letting you decide what you want to do next. The result is an overall Bible study experience which feels sluggish.
Thus, while the initial workflow is easy to understand, the actual workflow can quickly get cumbersome—particularly if you want to do something the developers haven't anticipated. One of this program's trainers actually calls the initial workflow a "crutch" and encourages his trainees to take a more text-centric approach. Unfortunately, doing so requires a great deal of setup and customization to accomplish.
Accordance, on the other hand, does not center around a single, pre-determined workflow. Rather, the interface is designed so that all the tools you need for Bible study are within easy reach. Want to view a passage in parallel versions? Simply add panes containing additional Bible texts. Want to close one of those panes once you're done? No need to open some dialog box, just click the close icon for that pane. Want to do a global search of all your resources? Bring up the Search All window by opening it or amplifying to it. Want to look something up in a dictionary, commentary, etc.? Select the word and then choose the resource you want from the Resource palette.
Note also that it is the text of the Bible, rather than some search result or report, that you typically end up coming back to. The net result of this is that you interact with the text itself, rather than with some filtered and pre-processed presentation of it.
Think of the Accordance interface as an artist's studio which has an easel (the main Workspace window), surrounded by pencils, brushes, paints, palette knives, pastels, charcoals, and all the other supplies needed to create a masterpiece (the Library window, Instant Details Box, and Resource palette). Accordance might feel more comfortable to the novice if we hid all that stuff in a drawer and gave him a paint-by-numbers kit, but if we did that, he would never move on to real mastery. And of course, the masters would continually be frustrated by the added steps required to get to the tools they need.
Admittedly, we need to do a better job of reducing the learning curve for new users, and we're taking steps to do that. First, there are video tutorials on the interface like those found here. Second, Dr. J is doing a great job with our free webinars. And, of course, we have some cool new interface ideas planned for an upcoming version of Accordance.
While I'll be the first to admit that we could do more to simplify things for the new user, we refuse to impose a pre-determined workflow on our users which essentially amounts to a "crutch." We'd rather you learn to walk, then run, at your own pace and in the direction you choose, rather than force you to limp along at some pre-determined pace we think you can handle. With Accordance, you determine your workflow.