Feb 17, 2009 David Lang

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.

Bookmark and Share

Archived Comments

John Fidel

February 17, 2009 1:14 PM

Great article David. I was just thinking about workflow, considering an article comparing the different software designs. While you reference several windows products, you do not mention them by name or reference your source. Perhaps this is out of courtesy, but it would be interesting to be able to review how you arrived at your conclusions.

In my discussions with many bible software users and programmers over the years, I have found just as many different workflows. Most new users that have never really studied the Bible in depth are completely lost. Most that were seminary trained using books use a similar system with electronic texts regardless of the software. A power user is someone that understands how they want to study the bible and how to make the software work to their benefit. That should be the goal of training, albeit challenging given the different levels of skill in each software's customer base.

I think some software companies recognize that their potential market includes many people that are new to bible study, not just bible study software. Or, they are designing software for a targeted market that are trained to study a certain way and design their software accordingly.

The challenge is to train users that need to learn how to study the bible and not just how to use the specific software to study the bible. The danger is making it seem easy to translate the original languages, when it is not; or to overwhelm the user with too much information, at least too soon in their study of the text. Demonstrating how much information a particular software product can search and obtain and how quickly is not necessarily bible study, but it makes for good marketing. Finding information specific to a particular stage of study should be the goal. This takes knowing what you are looking for and how to get it from the software.

To be specific:

BibleWorks Study Guides are all task oriented and not a tutorial on just how to use their software. Their vision of workflow is probably more incorporated into the design of their product than most, and is in line with their vision of their market.

Logos has tutorial that show both how to use the software as well as workflow. While they provide the home page for beginning users and market it as in-depth bible study, the true workflow design is in the passage guide and possibly their study templates currently in beta.

Regarding these two products, I do not think they lock you into a workflow, even though they may suggest starting points and steps for study in their design.

Accordance tutorials are mostly how to use the program. Fortunately your blog expands this knowledge into incorporating it into a workflow. Accordance is well designed and efficient, once you get under the hood. Making the webinars and training videos available is a great step. The resource "Beginning in Mark" is a great tutorial combining both why and how to. Keep up the work in this area. If your customers get more out of God's Word using your software, then you have accomplished your goal.


Dr. J

February 17, 2009 7:06 PM

Hi, John!

You'll be pleased to know that upcoming webinars will include some that are task-oriented: how to do a word study, how to write a sermon, how to compose a presentation and how write a research paper in biblical studies.

We started off with webinars that covered the basics bacause of all the new features in Accordance 8. Eventually, this will give us a pool of resource materials for new users.

So, stayed tuned..., help with tasks is on the way!


Dr. J

Robb Brunansky

February 17, 2009 11:21 PM


Your points were well-made in this article. Workflow is one of the primary areas I discuss with people trying to decide on Bible software. In my opinion, Accordance has the best blend of ease of use and workflow customization. Keep up the good work, and I'm excited to see what you have planned for future versions.