Thursday, July 7, 2011

An open letter to software developers: Take your new experience and shove it.

Dear software developers, web designers, and everyone else involved in designing the interfaces of websites, computer programs, and the like:

Is your desk organized a certain way? Do you keep your coffee cup on a coaster beside your blotter, safely away from your keyboard? Is there a fancy shmancy art deco thingy holding all of your pens? Are the icons on your computer organized on the desktop so you can go in and instantly find any program or document you wish to use?

Now imagine you've gone home from work for the day, and I come along and rearrange all your icons. In fact, I'm going to change a few, just for good measure. Then I'm going to put all your pens in a drawer and move your coffee cup so it's between your mousepad and keyboard. You know, so you can find it.

Twitching yet?

Yeah, I'll bet.

I realize you all want your programs and websites to be sleek, user-friendly, cutting edge, and all of that. And from time to time, that means realizing there is a design flaw that needs to be corrected. When things are counter-intuitive, confusing, and aesthetically migraine-inducing, changes need to be made. As a user, I understand and appreciate this.


Every once in a while, y'all will get a bug up your butt and decide for no apparent reason to go with a FRESH NEW LOOK. Sometimes it'll just be a new color scheme, sometimes it'll be a complete overhaul of everything, right down to new ways of phrasing/labeling commands, buttons, and menu options.

Stop it. Just...stop it.

Fix what is broken, make things more functional, but knock off the FRESH NEW LOOK bullcrap unless there's a reason why the old look needs to go. Facebook, I'm looking at you. Twitter, same deal. Microsoft...just...God, you don't even know.

Gmail, you're on the list now with your "Preview Gmail's New Look" thing that keeps making me break out in an OCD-induced sweat because the layout to which I've grown accustomed is about to change. You were already on my shit-list because of those subtle little changes you keep making to the menu options and commands above my inbox.

Here's the thing: If I want a fresh, new experience, I'll leave my computer and go try that new restaurant that just opened downtown. When I log into my e-mail, or open a program to browse the internet or work on a book or crop a damned photo, I don't want change. I don't want fresh. I want the buttons to be in the same spot with the same words on them so I don't have to lose my concentration because I suddenly can't figure out how to do something that has long since become intuitive. If the button in question or the menu option were problematic somehow -- maybe they were difficult to find, or the button for "print" said "gobbleshmerzen" -- fine. Change it. I'll adapt.

But if it used to say "Print" and is now a printer icon...look, I know that seems like a simple thing, and it is, but it's aggravating to go looking for the familiar "Print" button and not realize the appearance of the button has actually changed. Little things like that are annoying. A bunch of little things like that introduced over a short period of time are like Chinese water torture. A massive overhaul where everything has changed its shape, color, location, verbiage, and font? That's just mean.

If it ain't broke, stop fixing it. Stop fixing it, re-fixing it, and re-fixing it once more for good measure, because all it does is make me say bad words. You think FRESH NEW EXPERIENCE. My FRESH NEW EXPERIENCE is "wait...what the fuck...where the hell am I--oh, there it is. Why the fuck is it over there? OMFG. Okay, now where is the-- are you fucking kidding me???"

Bottom line: Unless there's a bona fide functional reason for it, stop moving shit around on my desk.

Thank you,
Lori W.
User of software, websites, and other such things


  1. A-fucking-MEN. I haaaate it every time some program/website completely redesigns their entire user interface so it is no longer recognizable. I eventually adapt and forget about the old design, but it makes me irritated for a long while first. Irritated consumers eventually become consumers of other products. Just saying.


  2. "Irritated consumers eventually become consumers of other products."

    Quoted for truth.

  3. I'll man up and respond on behalf of web developers (I'm not gonna speak for the folks like Microsoft whose business models are fundamentally broken). To put it bluntly (because what else are friends for), websites are not your desk... they are our homes. We arrange our furniture in a manner that is both aesthetically pleasing to us and we hope functional to our visitors. It is neither in our long term financial interest, nor our short term sanity, to freeze our sites as they first where when they launched.

    Web development, at the present moment, is in a state of renaissance... everything new is being tried while old ideas are being discarded. There is no "best" way to do anything, and they dynamic is generating amazing new approaches. That may change in the future, or maybe -- just maybe -- we will manage to avoid the stagnation that infects so many industries after a few decades.

    So, no, we are going to continue to change things. We are going to continue to mess with fonts, relabel buttons, tweak graphics, abandon old paradigms and force entirely new work-flows on our users. Because it's the web, you are not only welcome but actively encouraged to go find new providers. If gmail's redesign pisses you off, go try Yahoo or some other provider... vote with your feet! But I may add that people have been threatening to leave Facebook over design changes for nearly a decade, they still haven't, and Facebook is still pushing the envelope for what constitutes social networking. God bless 'em, says I.

  4. Sigh. I've had this same complaint about computer programs since IBM first launched the PC. Back then, nothing was standard. The commands for saving a file were different for every program that I used. Most recently it took me several MONTHS to figure out how to work with page numbers in OpenOffice. Right now, I can't remember quite how to suppress a page number, I would have to go to help to figure it out, because the commands are counterintuitive.

    Bottom line: The computer programming industry has always fixed what isn't broken. They can't seem to help it. User friendly is an oxymoron. Customer service is a foreign concept.