I've heard it said that you can just alternate between two UI
themes once a week, and every time you switch, the new one will feel
prettier, newer, and more exciting than the old one.
This is a natural tendency. The human mind is intrigued by change. That's
where fashion comes from, and fads. It gives you a little burst of some
chemical, maybe adrenaline (fear of the unknown?), or endorphins
(appreciation of the unexpected?), or perhaps some other kind of juice I
heard of somewhere but I don't really know what it does.
In tech, this kind of unlimited attraction to the unexpected is the main
characteristic of the first phase of the Technology
Adoption Lifecycle, the so-called "Innovators."
Perhaps people are happy to be included in the Innovator category. But
Innovation isn't just doing something different for the sake of being
different. Real innovation is the *willingness* to take the *risk* to do
something different, because you know that difference is expensive, but that
it will pay off in some way that more conservative sorts will fail to
recognize until later.
In fashion, the end goal is to catch people's attention; if you do that, you
are innovative. That's why fashion repeats itself every few years: because
you can be innovative over and over again with the same ideas, rehashed
In technology, we can hold you to a higher standard. Innovation requires
difference, but it also requires a vision of usefulness. Change is
expensive. Staying the same is cheap. Make it worth my while. Or if I'm
an Innovator, or even an Early Adopter, at least give me a hint about how
it's worth my while so I can exploit it while others are too afraid.
Every needless change creates expensive fragmentation. Microsoft ruled
their market by being change averse. So did IBM. So did Intel. Even
Apple. Whenever they forgot this, they stumbled.
Change aversion works because what makes a platform successful isn't so much
the platform as the complementary products. For a phone, that means
third-party power adapters, car chargers, headphones with integrated volume
controls, alarm clocks with a connector to charge your phone *and* play your
music at the same time. For a PC, it could be something as simple as
maintaining the same power supply connector across many years' worth of
models, so that anyone who standardizes on your brand will have an
ever-growing investment in leftover power supplies plugged in wherever they
might want them. For an operating system, it means keeping the same
approximate style of UI for a long time, so that apps can learn to optimize
for it, and a really great app made two years ago can keep on selling well,
perhaps with bugfixes and new features but no need for rewrites, because it
still looks like it's perfectly integrated into your OS experience. That
sort of consistency allows developers to focus on quality instead of
flavour, and produces an overall feeling of well-integratedness. It makes
people feel like when they buy your thing, they're paying for quality. And
yes, people - moving beyond the innovators into the more profitable market
segments of the curve - will definitely pay for quality.
Real design genius lies in the ability to make something look pretty, and
with gentle updates to keep it modern looking, without causing huge
disruption to your whole ecosystem every couple of years. Following fashion
trends, while not caring about disruption, does not require genius at all.
All it requires is a factory in a third-world country and some photos of
what you want to copy.
Ironically, even app developers mostly fail to recognize just how bad it is
for them when a platform changes out from under them unnecessarily.
Instead, they get excited by it. Finally, I get to rewrite that UI code I
really hated, and while I'm there, I can fix all those interaction bugs I
knew we had but could never justify repairing! Because now I *have* to
Redesigning things to match a moving target of a platform is really
comforting, because it's a ready-made strategy for your company. The truth
is, you don't have to think about what customers want, or how to make the
workflow smoother, or how to eliminate one more click from that common
operation, or how to fix that really annoying network bug that only happens
1 in 1000 times. Those bugs are hard; this feels like freedom. We'll just
dedicate our team to "refreshing" the UI, again, for another few months, and
nobody can complain because it's obviously necessary. And it is,
obviously, necessary. Because your platform has screwed you. Your platform
changed for no reason, and that's why your users can't have what they really
need. They'll get a UI refresh instead.
And although they are less productive, they will love it. Because of
endorphins, or sodium, or whatever.
And so you will feel good about yourself in the morning.
Syndicated 2013-06-12 07:35:30 from apenwarr - Business is Programming