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News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Monday, February 06, 2006  

Insanely Great Users

Last week, I said that our decision to develop Mac-only Bible software was a product of our desire to build "insanely great software." I wrote: "Where except on a Mac can you create insanely great software?"

There's a reason the Mac platform is the place to create insanely great software. It's not primarily the architecture of the Mac which makes insanely great software possible (though that's part of it); and it's certainly not that Apple is so easy to work with (this I can tell you from experience). Ultimately, insanely great software is the result of developing for insanely great users.

This fact was dramatically illustrated to me when I sat in on a training seminar for a Windows software program. At first, I found myself shaking my head in dumbfounded disbelief at the hoops Windows developers are willing to make their users jump through, and by the end of the seminar, I was actually angry about it. Time and time again I saw a potentially excellent feature ruined by a failure to consider the way a user might actually work with the software. The poor woman sitting next to me repeatedly got confused and asked me for help, and when I would help her, she would explain that she was tired or apologize that she just wasn't technically savvy enough. I wanted to shake her and yell, "It's not your fault! This doesn't make sense to you because it just doesn't make sense!"

In general, Windows users seem to have been trained to blame their confusion on their own ignorance or inability to adapt. This self-doubt makes them less likely to demand that Windows developers deliver a more refined user experience. Mac users have been trained to blame their confusion on the poor interface design of the application. I think the superior usability of the Mac and Mac applications is largely a result of this cultural difference between the users of the two platforms. Accordance users are constantly pushing us to make the software better—to refine it in ways we may not have thought of and to adapt it to uses we may not have anticipated.

Admittedly, we sometimes get frustrated when the little refinements we are asked to make delay the development of the big new features we're eager to add. But it's those little things which often have the greatest impact on our users' lives. Saving a step here and a mouse-click there may not seem like much, but it makes all the difference in the world when those steps are repeated over and over again. As I said in last week's post, it is often the little things which separate the insanely great programs from the merely mediocre. If Accordance really does qualify as insanely great, we owe much of the credit to the feedback and suggestions of our users.

I had the same kind of experience today while answering questions from my church administrator about a cross-platform calendaring product. The combination of Windows interface conventions underneath and her own training as a Gibbs instructor leads her to presume that any inability to understand the interface is her fault.

The irony to me is that I use the Mac version of the client, which is head-and-shoulders above the Windows version in both attractiveness and utility. It's almost, but not quite, heart-wrenching enough to make me want to loan her my PowerBook!

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