At the start of this week, I made a distinction between programs with a "steep learning curve" and those for which there is simply "a lot to learn." I then argued that while Accordance users have a lot to learn, the consistency of the interface reduces the learning curve and makes it easier to master new features. Rubén Gómez of Bible Software Review picked up on this discussion and added his own thoughts:
Reading [David's] post I was reminded of my own experience with what I sometimes call "the triple crown" (Accordance, BibleWorks and Logos). I have been a user of these three excellent programs for quite a while. I've seen them grow and become standards in different areas, but the one thing they all share in common is that they have become very complex packages. Any given user who is familiar with one of these will most likely think that the other two have a "steep learning curve" if/when they are exposed to them.
One of Rubén's readers then commented:
Ruben, your comments on the learning curve of current Bible software, especially as it pertains to moving from one package to another correlates to a recent article I read on usability in software:
The correlations the author draws from moving between a Windows and a Mac are applicable here, I think.
In the linked article, the author defines usability as follows: Something is usable if it behaves exactly as expected. He goes on to paint a scenario of a Windows user being frustrated with the "clunky interface" of a Mac because the Mac doesn't operate the way he has been trained to expect. For this user, the Mac is less usable than Windows because it is unfamiliar.
I hear arguments like this all the time, and there is certainly some validity to them. The users who often have the hardest time getting their minds around the Accordance interface tend to be the long-time users of other Bible programs. The people who instinctively double-click to do X and press a particular key-combo to do Y may get frustrated because Accordance doesn't do what they're used to. Yet generally, once these users grasp the overall concepts behind the Accordance interface, they start to see that Accordance actually makes their Bible study easier than it's ever been.
It's certainly true that the more deeply entrenched someone is in a particular way of doing things, the harder it will be for them to unlearn existing habits and adapt to new interface conventions. Yet those who draw a correlation between usability and familiarity don't typically stop there. They go on to imply that all interfaces are somehow created equal; that it's impossible to say "Brand X is easier to use than Brand Y" because "it all depends on what you're used to."
In my opinion, that's a copout—one which is often used to excuse bad design. Sure, people can be trained to use poorly designed interfaces, but that doesn't mean we can't evaluate one operating system or software program as being easier to use than another.
At OakTree Software, we do our best not to hide behind the that's-easy-for-you-because-it's-what-you're-used-to argument. We believe there are some objective criteria by which to assess a program's usability, and we want to make sure Accordance meets those criteria. I'll talk more about some of those criteria in upcoming posts, and I'll try to give some practical examples of how we've done our best to meet them. This, I hope, will accomplish three things beyond merely being an interesting theoretical discussion:
- It will give you an "inside look" into some of the thinking behind the Accordance interface.
- It will expose some of you to easier ways of doing things in Accordance than you may currently be using.
- It will help you better understand the way the Accordance interface works, so that when you explore a new feature you haven't used before, you'll be better equipped to anticipate how it should work.
Whew! That ought to keep me busy blogging for a while! :-)