Every software company talks about how ‘user friendly’ their interface is. Unfortunately ‘user friendly’ usually means friendly to the developer that originally designed it. All too often software is built around the limitation of the hardware and operating system, or tries to take advantage of an existing code base – primarily driven by the need to save money and cut time to market. The results are often far from user friendly, and often user hostile.
My basic rule of thumb is the manual test. I use the same approach whether I’m evaluating a major software investment, or just picking out a new cell phone. The manual test is simplicity itself. You try to do something practical with the device or software under test, and if you get frustrated to the point that you start to reach for the manual – it fails. As you might expect, most things usually fail the test. But, every once in a great while, they manage to pass the test. And when they do, it’s pure, delightful, magic. A real pleasure, and something that I know will keep on giving me pleasure day after day, year after year.
I’m currently evaluating a software application for some design work. Nothing really major – we just need to be able to put together quick sketches and concept drawings, but they need to be in 3–D. We can do it with some existing CAD packages, but they tend to demand too much perfection to be practical. The coordinates of every line have to match perfectly, there can’t be any gaps, etc. Although the results look great once you manage to create the design, getting to that stage is not a pleasure.
However, I have managed to locate a software package that might do the job, and looks like it will actually be fun to use. I’m not going to disclose the name quite yet. I prefer to wait until my testing is done and I’m satisfied with the application. At that point I promise I’ll do a complete review and post it here for everyone to benefit from. But what I have seen so far is extremely promising. The software is designed totally from the user perspective right down to the smallest detail. It has a very short learning curve, and knocks the socks off of all the other design systems I’ve used over the years.
Here’s one of my initial ‘manual tests’for this particular application. I tried modeling a small robot in 3–D. Of course I ran into a few hiccups here and there, but the screen shots below were created after less than an hour’s work with no special training, and no opening of the ‘manual.’ Really, really sweet.