Working Back From Client Experience to Technology

This is not a story about computers and operating systems, it’s about user experience. I just need to provide some background first…

I was a Mac user for some years. Why I got in to it and why out again is documented in an entry on my personal blog Running Ubuntu Linux on MacBook. It was an interesting period, in terms of user experience. And I can compare it with my experience with DOS, OS/2, Windows, Linux and other environments.

Apple gets an awful lot of things “right”. When Windows and Linux were still struggling with printers, it “just worked” on my Mac. The funny thing was, OSX uses the same underlying CUPS technology that Linux does – the difference was the user interface and ease of setting up a new printer.

Apple does slick hardware design, easy to use software, all the way through to a cool shopping experience (if you’ve ever been to an Apple store). Now, before you jump on me with counter-arguments, this is viewing things from the perspective of an “ordinary” user, someone who views their computer simply as a tool for accomplishing other things. As someone who knows more about computers (and software engineering), I reckon there’s plenty wrong “under the hood”! But that doesn’t negate the achievements on the “front end”.

In the following video, a slightly younger Steve Jobs explains how Apple develops its products: working back from the user experience towards  technology that enables it. Again, there can be criticism aplenty about how Steve Jobs operated (I may do another post on that) but I think it’s fair to also identify the positives, as we can learn from that.

I frequently meet very bright people talking excitedly about new technology they’ve developed and are (sometimes quite desperately – which in itself is telling) trying to jam it in to some product/service. The geek in me thinks “cool!”, but the user and business person in me wonders “who gives a stuff?”  I don’t want to discourage them, but I do feel they’ve got their priorities and focus in a tangle. Here’s what Jobs had to say about this, with some examples: