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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Questioning the Standard

What's on my mind is not a new topic. In fact, back in 2009, I wrote about a similar topic: the rules for creating software. In 2009, my focus was on the different ways software make user assistance available. You can read that post here. Today, I have a different topic to consider: the manner in which the software developer attempts to communicate information to the user. And, because it's my blessing and my curse to see the mistakes others make, especially when it comes to software development, I feel the need to write about it. After all, working as a technical writer since 2/10/1995 - 20 years, 6 months or 7486 days - has allowed me to experience and use a lot of software. I've learned from the countless user interfaces I've encountered that software has rules.  Unfortunately, not all software developers follow the rules. There's a simple reason for that: the rules are based upon opinion and what someone thinks is a good decision often turns out to not be one.

For example, I opened Photo Move 2 a while ago. This is what I saw:

I clicked No because I didn't want to update the software at that moment in time. Then I saw the following message:

The software didn't open.

If the user really doesn't have a choice, why is the first message phrased as a question? Because most software messages that deal with updating software phrase the initial message about software being out of date as a question. But it's really not a question because if the user doesn't click Yes, the software won't open. In order to use the software, there isn't a choice: upgrade or you can't use it.

So, then, why not simply state that? The first message should read something like, "There is a new update available. You should install it because your current installed version of the software will not run any longer." That's off the top of my head. What I advocate for is to have more truth in warning messages like the ones above. What are the consequences for clicking the buttons? Tell the user what they need to know before they click the button. If the first message had a message like my rewrite, I wouldn't have clicked No. I would have clicked Yes because I would have known that I wouldn't be able to run the currently installed version.

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