Let’s turn off all features to improve UX
Here’s a thought; what if all features on a new software upgrade were turned off by default?
What if when you bought a software upgrade, all the new features were disabled and the software worked exactly as if it did before you installed it? What if new software had all but the most structurally necessary features disabled?
Yes, I’m serious.
For a maximum user experience of course …
WTF? … how can you have a maximum user experience with everything turned off?
Because the biggest issue with user experience is surprises.
Well duh! But now we’re talking bugs, and everybody knows bugs suck.
Yeah, bugs suck, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about features that work to spec, but unfortunately the user doesn’t even know exist! Notice that I’m not talking about features that users don’t know how to use. I’m talking specifically about features, often intrusive features, which the user doesn’t know about.Like what? … oh, I don’t know … like having my keyboard cycling between US, Canadian French, and Canadian Multilingual, in an apparently random pattern last week. This happened because the default hot keys on the Language Bar software were set to the same keys as is standard for highlighting text for cut & pasting. This took me days to figure out, for a variety of reasons, the biggest being that, the change is not obvious until I type a letter that has a different mapping, turning my your single quotes ‘, into “ or è! I was completely oblivious to the fact that utility even had keyboard shortcuts, as I’m sure the person who selected those keys was oblivious to the fact they are standard shortcuts. This was extremely frustrating, and notice it was not a bug.
The problem is that things did not work as expected.
Unfortunately, when the user doesn’t know ‘about’, let alone ‘how to use’, all the funky bells & whistles we added to improve their lives, their experience more closely resembles a series of surprises. And surprises suck … oh yes they do suck. I’m not talking “Ed McMahon showing up on your door step” surprises, I’m talking “your meeting starts in 5 minutes, and the printer doesn’t work, and when you reboot, a large Windows Update starts installing” surprises.
Surprises are frustrating and unproductive.
So why the surprises? Because users are diving into the software to get stuff done, and don’t have the time or are just unwilling to put in the effort to learn all the bells and whistles. And who can blame them? Who wants to read hundreds of pages of documentation just to use the one new piece of functionality they bought the upgrade for.
Maybe if we just gave them what they wanted, they might invest the 5 minutes to learn what they need, and we’d have a more educated user base. Maybe if we gave them functionality and an education in bite sized chunks, they’d be more inclined to learn more because the commitment is a 2-5 minute video, not a huge, 1000 page, $75 book, or worse, a help file which provides absolutely no indication of scope.
So what’s my solution?
I think software should install with all features disabled.
Then when the user wants to use the awesome feature he was sold on, they just kick up some kind of feature start up dialog, which prompts the user to watch a minimal length tutorial for the feature and make the decision to enable the feature right in the tutorial. Yes, there would need to be the option to bypass the tutorial of course, for those who already know it, or just want to fumble around in it, but just knowing the feature exists will make their fumbling more likely to succeed. Maybe functionality could even be presented (marketed) to the user in order of popularity, helping users decide what features to look into if they don’t already know them. It might also help software companies know what functionality they should not be spending time on.
Yes, I realize there will be some things that must be enabled due to structural integrity issues, where enabling / disabling a feature is just too much work. Or business has decided to require it, regardless, to force feed some type of functionality to the user (think Apple iTunes). Or it’s just a design decision. But maybe those auto-enabled features could have their (again, bitesized) tutorials queued according to the most invasive functionality so the user could still skip them, but again, at least they’d know what changed.
I think the biggest argument against this idea would come from the business end of software product companies who feel that it’s got to be setup immediately based on the most common users, assumed workflow, and I’m sure there will be many who believe it must be enabled because users just won’t enable it themselves … yeah … just think about that statement for a second please. I know that would be an argument from somebody.
So, in summary, turn off as many features as possible, preferably all of them and push the user through a bite sized tutorial before allowing them to enable each one.