A passion for passion

A Flight Simulator writer writing about Flight Simulator writing


The UX curse

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Five years in this building and I still can't easily find an office if I haven't been to it before. The FS group is parked in a leased building that has some of the worst design I've ever seen. Hallways have weird angles and some of them actually go nowhere. The signage seems to be a satirical, if not cruel, attempt at obfuscation.

Being a User Experience professional has its drawbacks. One of them is an increased awareness of the lack of awareness many people put into the design of everyday objects and spaces. I can't pick up a coffee cup without examining how easy it is for me to use. I know a secret: if it isn't easy to use, it's the designer's fault.

People blame themselves all the time for having trouble using things that are poorly designed. This blog software, for example, has a pretty unfriendly interface. I felt like I had to hack around a bit to get some of the functionality to work. You might say I'm a dumb user but I know that whoever designed the software was not thinking thoroughly about the user's experience. Or perhaps they didn't have access to usability testing before shipping the product.

Granted, this is probably not expensive software and may even be freeware, and it certainly didn't cost me anything except frustration. But frustrated users are a danger even for web designers and freeware designers. If you want users to fete your genius, you can't just be pretty, you gotta be tres utile.

Some designers let their aesthetic brilliance override any consideration of how users will use their product. Web designers do this all the time. Why do Flash introductions on web pages have a "Skip intro" feature? Because there's nothing usable about these pretty Flash animations. After thousands of hours of looking at websites, I've only seen one Flash animation that I'd replay just for its aesthetic appeal (http://www.taorestaurant.com). It's occasionally appropriate but usually not.

That brings me back to our beloved Flight Simulator. As many of you know from your own development efforts, software design is ultimately a compromise (like most things in life) between competing constituencies within your own team. There are so many considerations to deal with from many different functional groups. You only have so much time and budget to get the job done.

You might be surprised how much sturm und drang occurs within our team (in a healthy way). This is a passionate bunch of people with strong opinions about what is best for Flight Simulator. And ultimately, we have to send it out the door on time or there are people who become very unhappy with us. But rest assured, we do think a lot about how you use our sim...because we use it too. We don't always get it right and sometimes we're not happy with the result.

But we keep trying and it's both interesting and important to us to make it better.

Thanks, Robert and Owen, for your comments. I will blog about the archaeology/Egyptology thing here at some point.

  • Isn't it a poorly-kept Microsoft secret that the poor design of buildings and signage is part of the interview process "intelligence testing"?
    The sign of intelligence is, of course, some sort of comment about "Why on earth are the signs so unhelpful?"

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