Solving User Experience Problems
User interface issues are common topics in this blog. There are a few reasons why free/libre software has not captured the imaginations of most desktop users.
One author recently posed the question of creating a user-centric development model.
The author ended the article with a presumption:
I think the answer is clear. We stick to the itch-to-scratch model.
The author unwittingly explained one of the challenges with that presumption:
The developers do not ‘know’ the problem intimately the way the users do because it is after all, not their problem.
Creating good user interfaces and experiences do not begin with scratching a developer’s itch. Good user interfaces and experiences begin with scratching the user’s itch. The developer’s itch is irrelevant.
Free/libre developers often do not participate in meaningful usability testing with non developers. Most free/libre usability testing is limited to fellow geeks. “Works for me” or opening a terminal rather than provide a GUI control is considered the end of usability testing.
Free/libre software developers often do not ask users what they want. They are good at resolving their own itch but often are clueless how to step outside those boundaries. This is true for most people. Most folks are good at resolving their own itches and are limited with do likewise for other people.
Despite misleading fluffy job titles, free/libre developers usually are not trained to think like an engineer. Many are not interested in solving the problems of other people.
Professional engineers learn to listen to what customers want. For engineers, problem solving is not about scratching an itch of the engineer but scratching the itch of the customer. Free/libre software developers often lack these skills or desires.
Money plays a role in this deficiency. In the engineering world, the costs of evaluation and consulting are absorbed into the final bid fee. Free/libre software development is not based on this cornerstone. Thus the costs of evaluation and consulting are ignored.
People who design houses do not shove their own designs down a customer’s throats. While a good designer might share and suggest designs from a portfolio, in the end the designer provides what the customer wants. Professional experience helps a designer ask important questions to satisfy the customer’s desires and needs. The customer gets the desired product and not what the designer wants.
Free/libre developers often do not follow those principles.
The current free/libre environment is a panacea for developers. Not so for desktop customers.
The itch-to-scratch model could succeed to resolve usability issues. Wide success will arrive when the focus changes away from developers to customers.