sarcastic. This program has gone done well in computing circles, but I daren’t let
the public at large have a go at, it might put them off the idea of computers for ever !
So less misapplied gimmicks in the way of mice and multiple menus, more straight
forward common sense and appreciation of the person who has to use the software.
Having said all that, there’s always the first time user. This presents a contradiction
in my terms of reference. If the software is to be slick in use, it can’t stop and politely
prompt the first time user every time he makes a mistake. This all comes down to
simplicity. If any function of a piece of software is simple enough, a totally untrained
operator should get to grips with it instinctively. In other words, the software should
do what the user expects it to do rather than doing what might be the easiest option
for the programmer.
This requires a bit of research on the part of the software designer. There is always
a temptation to do things with computers in a certain way, simply because someone
has done it that way before. It’s part of a software analyst’s job to find out how the
task is tackled, unfortunately, he often only asks those experienced in the job – fine,
they tell him the way the job is done now, and in the light of past experience, it may
it may not be the most efficient approach – but is it the way that a novice would
approach the problem ? When presented with an analysis job, I’ve always taken the
trouble to talk to a number of people, not just those who do the job at present, but
to ask those who know something about the task, but don’t actually do it, how they
would approach it, could it be improved, and so on. This can be most revealing, it
often shows ways in which the job may be simplified, improved, but even more
important, it shows the instinctive way that a novice would tackle it. This is a good
pointer. If software works the way you expect it to work, then it’s so much easier to
I’ve found that if you sit someone in front of software designed along these
principles, someone who has a superficial knowledge of what the job’s about, then
they can usually work their way round the software using the help screens alone
without reference to the manual inside an hour. This of course is no great surprise.
It’s simply the application of common sense to an area which to my mind is organised
too much for the ease of the program designer and tod little for the ease of the
people who have to use it.
So to sum up, when looking at software, don’t be beguiled by the salesman’s
blandishments that it’s easy to use. If you’re seriously interested in how well it all
works, don’t go on first impressions. Sit down in front of it, not beside the salesman
with the salesman in the driving seat, and see if you can drive it yourself. If you can
afford the time, spend the time and see if it works. If after a few minutes, you’re
starting to get the idea, then the equipment will become more important than what
the salesman says about it. As a final test, take someone who has to use the kit for