Ask DN: Need advice for a career change

7 months ago from , trying to live a good life. Building software along the way

Hi DN community,

I need your advice. For as long as I can think of my career was developing software. I started on the Mac and then moved to iPhone OS which became iOS later. I’ve been doing this mostly for clients as a freelancer, some times as an employee.

I want to change that. Products today are getting more and more complicated. It has gotten worse in the last few years, even for brands that were or are praised for their usability. iOS is so complicated at this point, I—a long time developer and user—get confused how to achieve things. I get lost in the countless hidden gestures, taps or other interactions. Our industry is running in the wrong direction in my opinion. Instead of adding more and more features, we should try to make technology more accessible to as much people as possible. Technology doesn’t have to be scary. A lot of technology could be simpler. Using products should not annoy users. It should enlighten them and bring them joy. And I am not only speaking of websites or Apps. Also things like a refrigerator or a stove, a TV or a car. No, and voice interaction isn’t a cure for that. The big picture is more important than the individual software. There are so many possibilities how technology could empower so many more people but they are afraid.

I am thinking about this a lot and trying to come up with a game plan how to tackle these problems. Write books? Publish papers, do research? Consult with businesses? If so, how to find these? Any idea how to approach this? Any tips or pointers in the right direction is really appreciated.

Thanks for reading!

-Flo

18 comments

  • Christoph OnoChristoph Ono, 7 months ago

    You may want to just approach this whole thing from a different perspective. As a developer, you're constantly focused on the technical details and with the options we have today, that can be overwhelming. But what really makes a product simple is not a lack of complexity, but just showing people the right thing at the right time. I'm currently listening to the audiobook "Competing against luck", which essentially reframes user-centered design for more business focused minds (they call it the "Jobs to be done" framework). The book explains how the whole product (and business organization) should be driven from the needs and desires of the user/customer. If you start from that perspective, a many things fall into place by themselves. This is opposite of what companies with tech blinders do. They have a piece of technology and then apply it to everything, whether it makes sense or not (e.g. Tweeting refrigerators). Hope his helps.

    0 points
    • Florian Bürger, 7 months ago

      Thanks, I put it on the list :-) Yeah, we don't need more of those, and no toothbrushes with bluetooth.

      The other day I stumbled upon the term Activity centered design which sounds similar to this approach.

      0 points
      • Christoph OnoChristoph Ono, 7 months ago

        "Activity centered design" seems to go in the same direction, but I think the "Jobs to be done" stuff goes just a little further. From what I understand from the article, activities are things people do. The jobs stuff is about what people want to achieve, the progress they want to make. So it starts even before people engage in activities and therefore goes deeper into psychology and behavior.

        The classic story from the Jobs theory is that of a store selling milkshakes. They tried all kind of marketing tricks but couldn't increase sales. Then they started talking to people and realized that in the morning they had a lot of commuters stop by in a hurry. Those commuters wanted basically a breakfast replacement, something that filled them up, lasted until lunch, and was easy to drink while driving. In the afternoon they had more families stop by, maybe coming back from the playground and the kids needing a break and a refreshment. By taking that perspective, they could design and market their products very differently (e.g. healthy, filling shakes in spill-proof cups in the morning, and smaller, fruity shakes in colorful cups in the afternoon, etc).

        From what I know, user centered design doesn't have a term for a "Job" in that sense. Seems like it would be good additional thing to introduce.

        0 points
        • Florian Bürger, 7 months ago

          Yes, definitely. I love that direction, to start even before asking how the product should work or how it should look.

          For me, it feels more like common sense that something should be designed around the task or the job it should accomplish. This should be the most important thing when looking for a new product or a way to improve an existing one.

          0 points
  • Alex HoffmanAlex Hoffman, 7 months ago

    I agree with a lot of your points, some of which are the same made in Golden Krishna's book, The Best Interface is No Interface. Totally changed my perspective on our industry. .

    0 points
    • Joe BlauJoe Blau, 7 months ago

      I read that book also... The problem is that project managers, marketing, and growth have't read that book so they want more more more.

      0 points
    • Florian Bürger, 7 months ago

      Thanks for the recommendation, will check that out. I am currently reading The Laws of Simplicity, the introduction nailed it. So many great books out there.

      0 points
  • Naema BaskanderiNaema Baskanderi, 7 months ago

    I do agree that usability in some cases is falling to the wayside in favor of other things. In some cases, I feel as though it may be done on purpose. Snapchat comes to mind. As a UX Designer, I see how badly it is done. BUT my kids love it...so that might be the reason, they are trying to keep us parents, out!

    Have you looked at other resources? nngroup.com does a lot of studies. usabilitygeek is a blog you might find interesting.

    When appealing to businesses, it has to be the ROI of usability.

    0 points
    • Florian Bürger, 7 months ago

      Thanks for the reply :-)

      Yes I've read a lot of resources on the web and a lot of books about the topic. In theory I am well prepared I guess.

      Interesting point about Snapchat. Never looked at it that way but it makes kinda sense now. I am not a parent but I sure have no idea what is happening in there.

      The problem with businesses seems to be that most of them want to see immediate results and don’t want to work on the big picture but only on their product(s). which, of course, is totally understandable since it is their business.

      0 points
    • Andrew C, 7 months ago

      Snapchat's audience tends to favour learnability over intuition & clarity. It sounds silly on paper, but younger humans valued posting on Snapchat away from the prying eyes that took over Facebook (ie. their parents, bosses, etc). Its features are designed for abstraction.

      So it isn't actually simplicity or complexity that matters at all in the end—it's connection with user goals/motivation. Easier said than done, I'm afraid. If you want to get good at design avoid trends, flat UI, skeumorphism, conversational design and all of that. Start with knowing your users, and picking the thing you feel best solves their issues (both logical, and emotional).

      0 points
      • Naema BaskanderiNaema Baskanderi, 7 months ago

        I agree with you about knowing your users goals & motivations. I have no motivation to learn how to use snapchat, whereas my kids do. So snapchat has done a great job in that sense.

        0 points
    • Cory MalnarickCory Malnarick, 7 months ago

      why do you say snapchat UX is bad?

      0 points
      • Kieran RheaumeKieran Rheaume, 7 months ago

        it's abhorrent imo

        0 points
        • Ian GoodeIan Goode, 7 months ago

          why do you say snapchat UX is bad?

          it's abhorrent imo

          tumbleweed

          Don't leave us hanging dude :)

          At first I also thought Snapchat's UX was indecipherable, but now have no problems at all. In fact I can't think of another app that I've ever seen be the cause of so much laughter, so by that metric their UX must be pretty good.

          0 points
          • Kieran RheaumeKieran Rheaume, 7 months ago

            Haha, you're right.

            Most of my gripes stem from the fact that Snap doesn't strike an appropriate balance between usability and monetization. The biz team says 'we need more ad impressions' and the design team then chucks a piece of brand content in every possible pixel.

            Also, the app's navigation...

            0 points
            • Cory MalnarickCory Malnarick, 7 months ago

              Monetization isn't UX for the user, unless you're talking about the UX of a user that wants to sell stuff on snapchat.

              It sounds like you have very particular needs that are way out of scope of what Snap Inc. intend for the product.

              I find it easy to navigate ads and such, and think they're done well for the format - a format completely new to the industry.

              And the navigation is fine. In fact, it's extremely intuitive. How long have you spent using it?

              0 points
              • Kieran RheaumeKieran Rheaume, 7 months ago

                Snap's product decisions that are grounded in monetization have huge impacts on the UX. Take a look at the stories page - I can't scroll directly to 'ALL STORIES'; instead I'm smattered with a bunch of celeb news, then a Texans vs. Bronco's hero image. How lovely.

                I agree the navigation is intuitive once you've used it regularly, but it's pure guesswork at the start.

                0 points
                • Cory MalnarickCory Malnarick, 6 months ago

                  the guesswork at the start – sure, but so what? I don't necessarily think that because it takes time to learn a product, especially if their nav philosophy is intuitive, fresh, new, fun, etc. means it's bad. learning any new system is a learning process, so that's just part of it.

                  Essentially, I'm entering that dialogue with you explicitly about whether UX is bad if onboarding/learning is different, but still intuitive within its own system.

                  stories page– i dont think the separation of recent and all with live stories, the monetizations, are affecting my experience to a level that impacts my appreciation of the product. i can easily scroll right past. can you elaborate on your criticism?

                  0 points