Lessons from Dr Sheldon Cooper on user friendly software
I really like this video extract from the Big Bang Theory. (A very funny and intelligent sitcom if you haven’t seen it.)
Although it is designed to get laughs—and
My feelings on these issues can be best explained by telling you about the single most important piece of software that I use in my career—Microsoft Excel. Like many of my contemporaries, I started out with Lotus 1-2-3 in the late 1980′s. Then I used Joe Spreadsheet during university (hand’s up if you’ve even heard of this one!). I dabbled with Quattro Pro out of interest (loved the tabs), then suffered through 20/20 at my first job with
Anyway, the rest as they say is history, and I’ve been a loyal and committed Excel user ever since. Right up until a few years ago that is, when Microsoft released Excel 2007. That’s when I got burned. My loyalty and love was thrown right back at me! Excel 2010 then corrected some of the things that I hated with 2007, but nowhere nearly enough to win back my heart.
In my view Excel 2007 and 2010 are significantly worse products than the best version of Excel ever released—Excel 2003. Way, way worse. No comparison! Now you may totally disagree with me, but that’s actually part of my point. Software is not used in the same way by everyone. People have different needs, different skill sets, different priorities. What’s good for me as a serious financial modeller, whose career has been built around my spreadsheeting abilities, is not necessarily what’s good for someone who uses spreadsheets as a fancy reporting tool, or even someone just starting out in their finance career. I don’t envy Microsoft’s job in trying to please everyone (by all accounts there are over 100 million active/licensed users of Excel) but let me tell you how they’ve stuffed this product up for me, just to give you an idea of my pain:
What’s important to me as a financial modeller is: a) speed of modelling; b) accuracy of the end result; and c) ability to present results to end users in a nice enough way. That’s it! I don’t need a new fancy toolbar/ribbon, changes to my shortcut keys, a gazillion rows and columns, prettier charts, etc, etc. Not only do I NOT need these things, in many cases giving me these things—just in case I need them—actually takes away from the things I do need. Granted, none of these changes have negatively impacted either b) or c) above, but the effect on my speed of modelling has been monumental! And it’s not like I haven’t tried to learn how to use 2010 properly, it just does not function as well as 2003. Keyboard shortcuts—changed or missing, menus—hidden behind a daft ribbon, cell styles—slow and clumsy, options menu—complete mess. The list goes on. It’s so bad that many people who are financial modellers like me won’t switch away from 2003.
Far be it for me to say that Microsoft made a mistake here.
The take-away message for me is … if you’re thinking of making changes to your product design and functionality, talk to your best users not your average users. When talking to your best users, ask them to think about less experienced users or users with lesser needs. Give them credit and assume they’re intelligent enough to think things through.