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October 29, 2003

Making users feel good

There was a great session this morning that was dedicated on how to improve the user experience of applications: Get users to fall in love with your Software. There was an essential message underlying the talk:

Success is not about making your application look good, it is about making your user feel good

The thesis is that current PC software often makes people feel bad or stupid. Even if the software is correct and accurate, it is not necessarily useful. A simple language use example is that 'File Open: Access Denied' scares people, and that 'the file is protected and cannot be opened' makes the user feel less of a violator.

What you would like to achieve is the 'new car feeling' where people are proud of what they have bought, feel good about their purchase, and will take care of it to a great extend. We need to get the same experiences from software. There are many aspects to achieving this , but it requires a different mindset about how we develop our applications. One of things to realize is that user will likely use your application for more than an hour, maybe even for years, so how can you assure that in a year from now the user experience is still good. Actually the experience should get better over time.

The talk centered around four trade-offs:

  1. Are we interested in provide a complete experience or is it just a tool
  2. Do you want a powerful or simple interface. Can you change this experience over time once the user because more familiar with the application?
  3. Can the application function in an automatic fashion or does it need to a lot of manual labor? Can you change this experience over time?
  4. Does the application need to look and feel familiar or can you make it operate in a very special manner. Can you add some special UI things that makes the user feel special?

There was more talk about how to structure applications such that they expose application functionality more effectively. Among others based on the anecdote that

Many of the top ten requests of functionally to be added to outlook, are for functionality that already is in outlook.

In the future a lot of this discussion will take place through a site Hillel Cooperman is running at

Posted by Werner Vogels at October 29, 2003 03:30 PM

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