Hard Work on Bad Design is not Commendable

2010-10-26 13:08:04 by chort

Recently I was talking with an executive about challenges they were having generating revenue from customers. The exec shared that they had some unprofitable customers, and most of the expense was in support. The problem was identified as the customers not having enough education on the product and/or not being smart enough to use it.

Since I have some experience with their product, I asked if the problem might be more due to the complexity of the product and the fact that even a training course isn't sufficient to make an administrator proficient with it. The exec admitted there are some complexities, but insisted they've been "working on it" and cited one example from long ago where they fixed a major usability issue. The exec then went on to point out how many hours the developers have been working and basically had a cheer-leading session for their efforts to roll-out new features.

Click here for the ranty bit.

Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize your engineers working over-time to deliver more bloat gives you a free-pass on usability issues. Yes your people are working hard, but they're doing it on the wrong things. No one deserves a round of applause for delivering a pile of spaghetti and mud sauce that only a sliver of the market wants, meanwhile you're adding a literal maze of menus, radio-buttons, and input-boxes to your UI. Are 300 features that no one knows how to use more valuable than 30 features that are obvious even to a novice?

The tech community has a really stupid culture of applauding narrow-minded engineers for "working hard" to build features and roll-out updates. No one in the tech community seems to actually take design to heart. Sure, people always talk about Apple in reverent tones, but no one seems to realize that Apple doesn't have a monopoly on design. There isn't some magical kool-aid that Steve Jobs hands out to new hires, after brewing it from a secret recipe of ingredients he special-ordered at Trade Joe's. Anyone can do good design, you just have to give a shit about it.

The amount of hours you work is a stupid metric for performance. Engineers should be rewarded by how many users actually make use of their feature, and what the support-request-per-use ratio is. If your feature is too damn complicated for people to use successfully, or even approach, you failed. I really don't care how many nights and weekends you've worked, the result sucked and you shouldn't be rewarded.

Maybe the problem is higher-up. Probably all these failures don't come from lousy programers; a great deal could come from good programmers with bad supervisors/project managers/architects/etc, but the culture is rotten and it really needs to change. Give these people some direction so they can stop churning out features and start turning out useable products.

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