Have you ever closely examined something that you use every single day? The most useful things in life are quite often those which we take for granted. For example, who ever thought of the design for a pair of scissors? Could you think of a better way for them to work? Why do we sometimes have a button and other times a switch, for example, why’s it a light switch and not a light button?
I’ll tell you why, it’s because the person who designed them carefully evaluated all the options, tried a few things out, and then gradually let user feedback evolve their product.
Exactly the same process is undertaken for creating software, only the evolutionary path is much shorter. This is because as technology consumers, we demand ease of use and practicality.
So what do I, as a Product Owner at Sage Intelligence, think of when creating software? Firstly, there is a bit of ground work to cover.
Getting the context
Creating software requires the adoption of a completely new persona – that of the end user who is going to be using the software on a daily basis to help them achieve their goals.
Before starting a new piece of functionality, I accustom myself to the world of the person who is going to use it. I spend time on the phone, in face-to-face meetings, reading blogs and trending articles, all so I can think like they think and do what they do. Luckily I have been adopting the persona of a small business owner for some years now, so it’s almost second nature to me.
Now that I have the background, I can start designing
The design process starts with a blank white board; each step of the process is meticulously drawn out with clear notes articulating what’s required from each step. Once I have all the points that I need to achieve illustrated, I can start reordering the logic of the steps. Just like a puzzle, I need to determine where’s the best fit for each piece.
What order should things be done in?
Just like plotting a course on a map, deciphering the best way to get to the end destination is an important step in creating software. What is the clear and logical route to follow to achieve what I need to? Much like a road trip, sometimes there are detours and obstacles to take into account, and when these occur, it’s necessary to have a plan in place to deal with them. This is why in software, you sometimes see pop-ups and wizards. These are put in place to help guide you through certain areas that may be tricky.
What’s the cleanest design for the screens?
Like they say, making a short speech is much harder than making a long speech. The same goes for software design. Keeping the interfaces clean and simple, while still delivering a powerful and flexible tool, is no simple undertaking.
So my task is to remove, tuck away or disguise certain pieces of the software so that the screens are simple and easy to follow. The thinking here is along the lines of—how do I still get to the punchline of my joke without boring the audience?
Now we are making some progress. Let’s test it out.
To use another cliché, “Never mark your own homework!” To put the software to the test, it’s then released on what’s called “Alphas”. In an Alpha test, the software is given to a typical everyday user, with a set of exercises for them to complete. Any points of difficulty are pulled back into design and reworked. Once a rigorous set of testing and designing is done, the software is ready for a beta. Beta testing means we can release the software out to a wider circle of users, the software is then carefully monitored and watched for adoption.
What is the ultimate gauge of success?
My ultimate goal when designing software for small business owners is to reduce their time spent on administrative tasks, and to allow them to focus on their business. I strive to ensure that the reporting software I create gives them the exact information they need to make the decisions that are so crucial to the strategy and survival of their businesses. If the software I design saves a small business owner even 5 minutes a day, which is just over 30 hours a year that they can focus on their primary business activities, the software will be deemed a success!