Sunday, June 3, 2007

Of bicycles and software

Thanks to getting hit last year by a guy in a pick-up truck who failed to yield, leaving me with a broken collarbone and multiple broken ribs, I've had a long absence from cycling. My old bike's still at the police station (maybe) and I've finally gotten a new one, which is a good thing - I've been crawling out of my skin to get back out on the roads and trails.
It's a gorgeous new bike. I'll stop short of calling it a work of art, but it sure is pretty. In just about every way I can quantify, it's better than my old bike. Yet despite this undeniable fact, I find myself not loving my bike and longing for my old bike, the one that I swore I'd never ride again.
It's piddly little things, like the derailleur levers being set up differently. The changes in frame geometry. Sticky rubber grips instead of hard rubber ones. All these seemingly inconsequential little things add up to me not being as in love with my new bike as I should be yet. I'm out on it and "did my old bike climb faster than this one?" and "is this new frame too rigid?" and other heresies run through my mind.

As I'm out riding, this brings to mind being down at the big corporate headquarters a while back, picking people's brains for this new application we're going to be building. They're showing us how they set up things on their end and things are, keeping it sophisticated, execrable.
The interface sometimes locks up, but you have to wait to see if it unlocks. If it doesn't, you have to close out because it probably means something's wrong and you'll lose your work. If you've gotten past this step, there's no going back and it means you have to re-do hours of keying because you can only export from System A to System B once. Hoops must be jumped through and chickens sacrificed just about every step of the way.
I see obvious little fixes that should be pretty simple and big time-savers and I run them by them They get uncomfortable with the propositions and the answers all basically boil down to "we can't do it your way because we do it our way." Of course, I scoff to myself all the way home because wow they're lifers but then again, the first thing I do with Windows XP is turn off the bells 'n whistles and get back to the Windows 2000 interface that I'm used to.

When it comes to interfaces, doing things right the first way obviously should be your first choice. Once it's been deployed and users have been banging away on it for years, take some time and reconsider overhauling the UI to use the newest and shiniest widgets you can find out there. There's a balance to be struck and you need to be smart about it.
No matter how god-awful the old UI was or how much pain it caused (and continues to cause), you're going to make users unhappy by changing things around. You think you're bringing joy into the world, but steel yourself for the onslaught of angry-grams when you release your update.
I look at pieces of the application and some parts are flat-out cringeworthy and I'd love to change them to hide my shame, but I have to ask myself - are these changes making me happy or are they making my users happy?

If you're sure you've made the right choice, stick with it. After all, some of your users are knuckle-draggers who do everything they can to make their new OS look like their old one and resent their bikes for little details that make damned near no difference and distrust applications that don't crash on them if they do something "wrong".
What do they know?

No comments: