Agile Development, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience

First things first – make it work well

People all over the world celebrated the onset of new year 2011 with fun, aspirations and resolutions. This cheer and  high-spirited enthusiasm continued well into the first week of the new year.  However for some people, the early days of the new year proved not all that fun. They got up later than usual, reported late, missed their appointments and meetings. You might want to blame all this mayhem caused due to the hangover and the high-spirited celebrations :). Well, that was not the true reason. The real culprit was the mobile phone they were using. Yes, it was Apple iPhone4 that these people have been using that created the problem.  The Alarm app of the iPhone4 failed and did not set off (or is it ‘set on’ ? ) the alarm.

Small problem, big pain

You might say that this is just one small problem for a few users which happened, one day. After all alarm is just one small app in iPhone and it did not work on one day and so, its really not a big deal. I agree, but then think about the consequences of this small bug and the inconvenience it caused to the users. Even a small defect in the product could become pricking one to users. I remember my good-old Hero Honda CBZ,  first version which I bought in 2001. It was a brilliant motor bike with a fantastic performance and great looks. I was really happy with it except one small itchy glitch. Look at the images below and you can guess what the problem with this motor bike could be.

Its not all about look and feel

Yes, you got it right. The problem was with the placement of  kick-rod and footrest in this model of CBZ. Footrest was placed right below and would stop the kick rod from going down. Since there was no electronic auto-ignition, starting the motor cycle requires three steps…

  1. Take the footrest up, so that it doesn’t come in the way of kick-rod
  2. Kick the rod down so that mo-bike gets started
  3. Immediately get the footrest down, for applying breaks

Phew…so much pain just to start a mo-bike. Just imagine your plight when in the midst of heavy traffic on a busy road, the CBZ stops and you need to start it in a split-second, else you might incur the wrath of a 100 horns blazing all at once. The curses and prayers of many a user like me, would have reached the people who matter at the motor cycle company. In the newer version of the CBZ, Hero Honda introduced is an electronic-ignition. So, the moral of the story is ‘all looks and no work makes your product a flop and users irate’.

Go beyond the briefing, but first get the basics right

The above problems have nothing to do with lack of user experience, or delight factors. They refer to the breakdown of a simple and basic functionality of the product. Nowadays in a bid to get quicker and closer to customers, product companies have been getting on to the bandwagon of offering delight to their users. They have been treading past the drawn lines, going beyond the briefing. I fully support their intent and actions and also believe in the end results of their efforts, which is better products and happy users. However, this is not completely hunky dory and in a few cases, companies do not realize that they are committing some basic errors. To attract their users, the product companies are forgetting that their products must first work well and satisfy the immediate needs of their users.  There is an imminent need to realize that ignoring this might lead to frustrated users who will shun using their products and services.

It does not really matter if your product offers great bells andwhistles, while at the same time it cannot provide the core  functions. Often, in the name of user experience, product owners do tend to overly focus on the presentation losing sight of the other important factors such as functionality, navigation and interaction. As Steve Jobs rightly puts it, “Design is not what it looks like and feels like, Design is how it works”. A case in point is the call dropping functionality of iPhone4. Not too long back, you might recollect the problems reported with the dropping of calls in iPhone4. This issue was more noticed when users holding their iPhone in left hand at a particular angle.  Apple accepted the that there was indeed a defect with the phone’s antenna placement and offered a bumper cover free to the users.

In case you are wondering why I am riling Apple only all along, well it is not alone in getting the bad campaign.  Hotmail recently joined the shame game when most of its users, one fine morning, found their mail boxes empty, all of a sudden. Some other users found a few mails missing. A few others were annoyed to note that some emails were lost. I guess you would agree that the basic purpose of an email product is to receive and send mails. If this very primary functionality is not in place, don’t you think it raises alarm with the users? Of course, not only do they stop using the  product, but they spread the bad word pretty quick. So, address the  important things first in your products, services or processes…functionality, those that matter the most to your users and you too.

Form follows Function

There has  been an eternal debate in the design circles about the seemingly conflicting approaches of ‘Function follows form‘ and ‘form follows function‘.  My ‘Business Systems Analyst’ background gets the better of me and I support the latter option, i.e., ‘Form follows function’ theory. Of course, I don’t apply this to all and sundry. Leave alone some specific products like art works, paintings, craft and decorative items etc.,  which definitely have a dire need to look prettier first, as that is their core objective. However, for the rest of the other products which we use in our everyday life and work, functionality should be the first goal followed by the looks. Often times, the way a product has been designed, especially the aesthetic appeal  accentuate the function and make it better.

FURPS and You

Functionality scores over pure-play user interface and mere looks. So much so that the good old model, FURPS which classifies the software quality attributes, function places Functionality on the top much before other factors. For starters, FURPS refers to Functionality, Usability, Reliability, Performance and Supportability. There had been additions to this list, what is being referred to as FURPS+.  The + or extra attributes are interface, implementation, operations, packaging, legal etc. Irrespective of whatever gets added to this list, one thing is pretty clear… that functionality always precedes everything else. So, in case you ever doubted what the Business/Systems Analyst in your team does, you have an answer now.

Focus on the WHAT

I doubt how many times you would have lifted the bonnet of your car to see what’s inside. Compare this with driving your car using the steering wheel, gears, clutch and other parts in the car nearby to  the Driver’s seat.  Not many users (barring a few, such as technicians and mechanics ) would wonder how your product is working. What matters to most of them (the normal users, barring advanced and expert users) is that the product should work and do the things it is supposed to do, in the first place. From a Software Development Life cycle (SDLC) perspective, Requirements always come first before Design and Development. Even in this age of Agile development with SCRUM, Extreme Programming and User Stories, you still need to understand the ‘WHAT is to be done’ before you proceed with ‘HOW it is to be implemented’ . First, focus in understanding WHAT is required of the stakeholders, and users from the product or application that you are developing.

Make the functionality clear

Its not only important that you focus on getting the functionality right, but more importantly you need to make it clear to the user what are the things they can do with your product.

Design and develop your products and services in a way that users should understand what they can do with the products or services.  If it is not clear to your users as to what your product offers to them they will eventually dump it. For instance, Google Wave failed big time because it was not clear to the users what they could do with it and how it would help them  any better than the existing lot of the social networking and collaborative platforms. Also, iPad had a few takers initially in the first few days, as some people had questions about what exactly it offers. They could not see the real difference between iPhone and iPad, sans the ability to call. Some even called the iPad a glorified and bigger format of iPhone.

To conclude this post, all I have to say is that, as developer of products or services,  you need to set your eyes and mind first on the functionality. If it does not work, they will not use it!


  1. Andy C. Jr.

    Got some useful tips and points from your blog post. Really great article with very interesting information. Waiting for the next one!

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