If you build it, he will come. In the movie Field of Dreams, farmer Ray Kinsella responds to that disembodied voice by plowing under his cornfield and turning it into a baseball diamond. Makes for a great movie, but in the real world, too many software developers take the same approach: code the software with the door closed, fill it with features, then open the door, sit back, and wait for users to walk out of the corn and start playing. So to speak.
Problem is, this approach results in software that might have a lot of utility, a lot of stuff it can do, but not much usability, the ease of actually doing those things. The reason? The user was never at the center of the software design process. Instead, the software became an end in itself, rather than a tool tailored for the hands that would wield it. The result? He might come, if you build it, but he’ll soon throw up his hands in frustration and walk back into the corn, where he’ll wait for software built from the ground up around his needs and ways of doing things.
Why SaaS Software Tends to Be More Usable
Microsoft, talking about software usability, cites four principles of user-centered design as identified by Gould, Boies, and Lewis (1991):
- Early focus on users. Designers should concentrate on understanding the needs of the users early in the design process.
- Integrated design. All aspects of the design should evolve in parallel, rather than in sequence. Keep the internal design of the product consistent with the needs of the user interface.
- Early and continual testing. The only currently feasible approach to software design is an empirical one: the design works if real users decide it works. Incorporating usability testing throughout the development process gives users a chance to deliver feedback on the design before the product is released.
- Iterative design. Big problems often mask small problems. Designers and developers should revise the design iteratively through rounds of testing
Because much SaaS software benefits from shorter development cycles and modular design, all of the above is far easier to deliver to the target user. And because the software has been designed from the outset to ease his pain (the user, not James Earl Jones, unless he’s a user, too) , the chances that he will stay and play ball are much greater.