Good Software is Good for Users

Software is a new product, one of the many social services we have invented. And it is important to consider it a social service – not just a way of making money.

Companies, who make most of the software – often forget this, and make software that is hard to use – and defective. And show little interest in making it better. Their attitude seems to be “We are important, and the users are not. They will use whatever we give them, whether they like it or not!” They don’t say this, of course – but it doesn’t take a genius to read their minds, and see what is really going on there.

Their primary objective should be to make a product, or service – that is easy to use, and one people want to use. Designing this into software can be easy. Software is always a combination of two things (1) processing going on in the computer (that the user cannot see) – and (2) information that is presented to the user, for his response. Whenever this is done, there must be a location on the screen, asking “Are you having trouble with this?” If the user clicks on this, he is presented with a form he can use to describe his problem.

This user input must be treated with respect – as important information. He should be given an automatic response, giving him an incident number, and the problem sent to two places – one inside the company, and one outside the company – to a government agency – that will track how well the company is doing.

Getting the government involved is important. It is responsible for the overall health of the economy. Individual companies are only concerned with themselves – and sometimes not even that. Companies fail frequently – and the government should be keeping track of this also.

I worked for twenty years in the Computer Industry in California – from 1980 to 2000 – and I never worked on a single successful project – and most of the companies I worked for (and there were a number of them) went out of business – taking their investor’s money with them. A huge amount of money went down a rat-hole, and was never seen again. And no one was upset by this “That’s just the way things are!”

America went from being powerful, to being helpless – the victim of mysterious forces it created itself.

Good software companies test their products thoroughly – and make sure they are easy to use and have no bugs in them. But I never worked for one of this breed, that came along later.


From Customer to Consumer to User

This change happened in my lifetime – the last half of the 20th Century. This was characterized by Industry, Television, and the Computer.

I was born in an Industrial town, Ft. Madison, Iowa, in 1936. The West End of town was dominated by the Santa Fe Railroad – and the East End by the Sheaffer Pen Company. It had the two fundamentals of Industry – Transportation and Manufacturing.

Ft. Madison was a part of the huge manufacturing complex in the American Midwest that produced half of the World’s goods at the time – as well as much of its agricultural produce. Chicago, not far away, was the Hog Butcher to the World.

It had jobs and lots of them. And it knew how to do everything.

Then came the TV. And its impact was overwhelming. People didn’t have to go to the movies anymore. The movies were delivered to them, in their living rooms – for free! People were no longer active customers, choosing what they wanted to buy – they were passive consumers¬†– buying whatever they saw advertised on their TV.

Then came the Computer – which people saw as an extension of the TV – only better! And they had the same passive attitude toward it. It was there to entertain them. And that was all they wanted – better entertainment!

This consumer culture quickly became global. People did not think about their situation – they only wanted more of everything. And they saw no reason whey they should not have this. They wanted what the saw on their TVs – and then what they saw on their smartphones.

They did not care how the Computer – with its networks, the Internet and the Wireless – worked, but Business did. And quickly took advantage of it.

This resulted in a new way of doing business – and a new relationship to those who used their services. Who became users.

A new kind of worker also emerged – knowledge workers. Who understood what was going on in the computer scene – and were well-rewarded for their efforts.

A new symbiosis appeared between companies and their users. They both needed each other!

They had to develop a new relationship toward each other for each new kind of product that was developed. This meant a new user interface (UX) had to be developed, with the company and its users, inventing it with each other!

Gone were the days when a business knew everything. It now had to assume it knew nothing – and it would have to work in the dark, rapidly trying out new ideas – with its users.