For professional reasons, I like to mess around with software. It’s a form of training, because some of the messing around leads to frustration, confusion, and inefficiency. And that’s good.
My hope is that my experiences will help me to better understand what I put various groups of software users through when they use the software I helped design and build.
An easy way to mess around is by changing default settings. For example, my iTunes isn’t set to English. This helps me understand the experience of users who learned one language at home as children and now use another language at work as adults. It’s not just beneficial to experience the initial pain of memorising where to click (as I become a rote user in a GUI I cannot read), but also the additional moments of frustration when I must do something new—an occasional task whose command vector I haven’t memorised.
Another easy way to mess around is to switch between iMac and Windows computers. It’s not just the little differences, such as whether the Minimise/Maximise/Close buttons are on the left or right sides of the title bar, or whether that big key on the keyboard is labelled Enter or Return.
It’s also the experience of inefficiency. It’s knowing you could work faster, if only the tool weren’t in your way. This also applies to successive versions of “the same” operating sytem. This is the frustration of the transfer user.
It’s noticing how completely arbitrary many design standards are—how arbitrarily different between operating systems—such as the End key that either does or doesn’t move the insertion point to the end of the line.
Another easy way to mess around is to run applications in a browser that’s not supported. I do it for tasks that matter, such as making my travel bookings.
All this occasional messing around is about training myself. The experiences I get from this broaden the range of details I ask developers to think about as they convert designs into code and into pleasing, productive user experiences.
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