Saturday, January 16, 2010

When is Bad Good?

I frequently give people conflicting advice in both my UX consulting and my UX Office Hours. What's right for one product is frequently wrong for another product.

Case in point: two people, one after another, one of whom I told that he should get rid of all his icons and use text, and the other who I told to get rid of all the text and use icons.

Person 1 had an interface where each icon appeared exactly once. All were cryptic. The icons needed to be large because they all represented complex functions, so there was no text with the icons (even if there had been, it would have been tiny). Better to use just text and lay things out neatly as in an on-screen menu.

Person 2 had an interface that included a monthly calendar. Inside the days, there were one- and two-word indicators that applied to the individual day. A small calendar filled with small words just becomes a big mess, hard to see what's going on. But, since there were only a half-dozen different things in the calendar, and each was easy to represent by a simple, highly recognizable icon, switching to icons would instantly make it less cluttered and more usable.

But, yesterday, I gave some advice I've never given to anyone before. For a commercial product, I told him his input format should be a text file.

Why? Well, his product has two classes of users, like many crowd-sourcing products. The millions (hopefully billions) of people who will flock to his site to use it, and the thousands (and hopefully millions in the long run) who will provide the content for the first group. Initially, the people in that second group is probably tens of people. Every bit of energy he spends on them is time he didn't spend on the group that matters more, the visitors.

Is there a risk? Certainly. There's always a risk, and we talked about how to minimize the risk by what the text file looks like and how it's used. And we did spend time talking about a design for a "v2" that would be a step up from the text file. But I think the risk of not shipping while trying to build the perfect product for the content providers, or even trying to build the v2 we talked about is greater. Shipping is about focus and, in this case, I think focus is about delivering the right product for the people that matter the most. If he hits his goals of billions of visitors and millions of people putting content up, then he'll have ample time for v2 and v3 of the content provider tool.