Is eye candy underrated?

April 13, 2009 at 9:20 am 1 comment

Suppose you’ve got a new customer request for a feature, or maybe some great new idea by marketing people that will certainly increase sales of your product. Whether you are working in agile or a more traditional environment you are usually going to get a bunch of functional requirements (program should do a,b and c) and sometimes some non-functional requirements (performance targets, security). Sometimes you will also talk about usability – but in my experience you are never going to get “and it must look really really good” as a requirement. Most of my experience is in management systems development, so it is an assumption, but I am willing to guess that in most “business oriented” software eye candy is not a requirement.

You are not your user

You are not your user

I have recently read a great book called “Why Software Sucks?” and the basic idea of the author is that most of the people involved in making software come from very technology oriented engineering background (he uses the word geeks but lets not go there) and so to us everything is an engineering problem. We value technology and features and prefer more functionality over everything else really. So it is more natural for us to focus on features and performance and elegant solutions and mostly ignore usability and eye candy. But there is a catch – “You are not your user“. The things we value may be not the things our users value. And when developing applications we need to focus on what users want not what we think we would want if we were users. There are a lot of examples in the book of what happens when developers do what they think is usable instead of what their users would consider usable, and it’s not pretty.

But what about visuals and eye candy? Is it possible that the same thing happens here as well? Is it possible that while we as developers often consider eye candy irrelevant and even waste of resources, our users actually value it much more?

Well, some evidence is certainly out there. Take video games for example – good looking games with tons of eye candy just sell much much more. Take Hollywood – the big budget flicks with most effects often are criticized for being too shallow – and yet they are the ones that bring the most money and most people go to watch them. And how about Apple which took eye candy to a whole new levels? I have never used macs in my life, but if you ask me which is better mac or pc in terms usability – I would go with Mac.

So good looks sell but what is even more important here is that often good visuals are even more important than actual features. Macs have less software available for them then PCs. Big budget flicks have usually much less substance than independent movies. Most of recent blockbuster video games are just remakes of existing formula with almost no actual gameplay improvement.

So, yes, I believe that eye candy alone is worth a lot more than we usually think it is, even for applications that are not mass market oriented. (quick test, which bug tracking software is better: bugzilla or jira?). It’s great for first impression and thus sales and it’s great for continuing user satisfaction and thus retaining customers and creating word of the mouth hype. Features and usability alone are not enough anymore – your users demand that it also  must look really really good.

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Entry filed under: Agile, Business of Software.

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