June 2016

Volume 31 Number 6

[Don't Get Me Started]

The Joy of UX

By David Platt | June 2016

David PlattTen years ago, I published my book, “Why Software Sucks,” highlighting the UX shortcomings of current programs. I thought it would save the world, but it didn’t. When I asked devs why they didn’t fix the problems I described, they said, “We don’t know how, and we’re too busy.”

I implored Microsoft to fix the former problem, but it wouldn’t. As a product-oriented company, Microsoft explains in great detail how to implement a feature, but almost never when to use it and when not to. And in the few spots where Microsoft does provide such guidance, the company undermines it by doing exactly the opposite in its own applications (see my May 2013 column at msdn.com/magazine/dn198249).

Enough! I can’t stand it any longer. I’ve written another book to fix both of these problems together and save the world. Addison-Wesley published it last month. I call it “The Joy of UX.”

I wanted to emulate the original “Joy of Cooking.” Written for an audience who knew nothing about cooking, that book famously opened with the instructions, “Stand facing the stove.” As one reviewer writes, it targeted readers who were, “… busy, not really interested in cooking, but eager to bring off a dashing effect with a minimum of effort.”

That describes you, dear reader, doesn’t it? You know you’d make more money with a better UX. But you don’t have resources for a full UX department, and if your company already has one, you can’t get much attention from them. Raising your UX game is up to you, the front-line geek. You wish you could read Alan Cooper’s “About Face” cover to cover, but you don’t have time, and its level of detail makes it hard to apply.

Fear not. Plattski’s got you covered. My “Joy” is short, only 212 pages. I’ve extracted the 20 percent of principles that you use 80 percent of the time. I’ve compiled them into seven easy steps, the totality of which I have named (with characteristic modesty) the Plattski UX Protocol. Figure out who the user is. Figure out what problem the user is trying to solve. Make low-fidelity mockups in a sketch editor, then try them on actual users or their representatives. Modify mockups based on the results. (And a few other easy steps.) Rinse. Repeat. Profit.

The last two chapters contain case studies applying these principles to two real-life programs—the MBTA commuter rail mobile app, and Beth Israel Hospital’s PatientSite.org Web site. Early readers tell me that this is their favorite part of the book. You’ll find a sample chapter and more case studies at joyofux.com.

My other books have targeted specific technologies, and waned as those technologies aged. This one is different. The same principles, and therefore the same development steps, apply to all applications, regardless of platform. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on Xamarin or HTML5 or Windows Forms or Web Forms or even VB6. You don’t have to upgrade to a fancy graphical environment to make your users much happier. Just start listening to them, as I show you.

Above all, start these steps early in the development process. Teams way too often say, “We’ll work on the UX once we have the architecture fleshed out.” The UX is your architecture, as I wrote in my September 2011 column (msdn.com/magazine/hh394140). Until you’ve involved your users, you don’t know what they need or want. An app’s basic feature set always changes, often drastically, after users react to the first mockups.

If you really want to get moving, I’ll bring this guidance to you personally through my jumpstart workshops, in which I come to your company and guide you through these steps on your own projects. Because summer is my slow season, I’m offering a half-price deal through Sept. 1. Check it out on the book’s Web site and give me a call.

The “Joy of Cooking” has remained in print continuously since 1936 and sold more than 18 million copies through eight editions. If I keep “The Joy of UX” up-to-date, it might outlast me. Perhaps my daughters will take it over, as Marion Rombauer Becker took over the original “Joy of Cooking” from her mother Irma Rombauer. Stand facing the users, my friends.

David S. Platt teaches programming .NET at Harvard University Extension School and at companies all over the world. He’s the author of 11 programming books, including “Why Software Sucks” (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) and “Introducing Microsoft .NET” (Microsoft Press, 2002). Microsoft named him a Software Legend in 2002. He wonders whether he should tape down two of his daughter’s fingers so she learns how to count in octal. You can contact him at rollthunder.com.