Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why developers suck at UI design

Yesterday I was listening to this podcast from Boagworld  dedicated to the dangers of "what if" design. The basic idea is that you shouldn't let exceptions hinder the experience of the majority. I.e. if something happens once in a blue moon, you shouldn't compromise your UI design because of it.

At a certain point he alerts for the fact that developers tend to make this mistake because developers are worried about edge cases - "what if the connection to the database is broken", "what if the user isn't logged in". I agree with this, and I believe this is one of the reasons developers tend to make interfaces that are overly complicated for the common use case.

The solution seems easy, right? Developers need to take a step back from their work, look at the user-stories they captured from their users, make the most used features really obvious, and hide the rest of the clutter.

Well, nothing fundamentally wrong with this approach. I believe developers must deliver the best possible interface they can, and that requires effort and training. But I don't believe this is enough.

The problem is, when you dive as deep as a developer does on the project, it's very hard to step back and take a look at the big picture. What developers really need to do is get someone from the outside to spot the obvious errors that are just too evident to be seen by someone buried in the nitty gritty details of a project.

Again, this sounds like a simple enough solution. After all, getting someone to comment on your work isn't really hard, is it? Specially if it's about design! But the problem is that most developers don't know how to listen or how to act on the feedback they receive. It's the "what if" problem again... it's really easy to dismiss feedback based on edge conditions that happen 1% of the time. (This makes a great topic for another blog post, and I urge you to write it!)

In the meantime, no time like the present to become better at UX design. Here's an interesting webinar with "6 steps to engineering awesome user interfaces". Have fun!
(disclaimer: this is a webinar recorded by me for OutSystems, the company I work for)