The Browser’s Effect on Application Interfaces

I’ve been discussing aspects of the NetNewsWire UI with Brent recently and I passed on a theory I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while:

People are so accustomed to using a browser, they don’t use menus anymore. For many people, if a feature isn’t right there in front of them, it doesn’t exist.

I’ve had several cases recently where functionality I wanted already existed, but was in places I wasn’t looking for it (one was in BBEdit, software I’ve used for nearly 10 years).

It reminds me of a story I heard at a usability seminar:

A software company brought in a representative from companies that were the oldest and most active users of their software to sit in a round table discussion about features they’d like to see in future versions of the product. While the group of :scare: power users :/scare: sat around the table, the engineering team for the project along with the usability consultant sat along the wall of the room to listen in on the conversation.

After a slow start, the users gained momentum and were soon making a long list of features they wanted to see in the product: “Wouldn’t it be great if…”. “If I could just make it do…”, “This feature would save me hours…”. As the list grew, the engineering project lead sitting along the wall began to fidget and look uncomfortable. When the group took a break, the project lead lept from his chair, left the room and walked quickly down the hall to an empty office. The rest of the engineering team and the usability consultant followed after him.

In the empty office, the project lead paced in silence in front of his team for a few minutes before looking up and saying, “Every feature they just listed has already been in the product for 6 months!

If you are a developer and people are asking for functionality in your product that you already have, don’t blame the users. If your users don’t/can’t find the features, they may as well not exist.