User Interface or User Interference?


I use an anti-virus software program called Avast. Anti-virus software is a tough product in terms of demonstrating its value to users. It runs silently in the background, only occasionally detecting an infected file. In short, it's easy to forget about. And without visibility, it is hard to build a deep sense of value.

What Avast does to overcome this, brilliantly in my opinion, is to alert me twice a day with a pop-up bubble and a voice announcement, that my "virus database has been updated." The message comes and goes in seconds. I am reassured to know my anti-virus software is working fine and is even updating itself for me. Perhaps most importantly, every time I see and hear this message, I am getting positive brand reinforcement.

Contrast this to some of the other software experiences I have as a user. Every morning, always in the middle of me typing something, I get a cryptic pop-up asking me if it is okay to run a program called "jucheck.exe" Turns out I am being invited to let the Java update program go out and check if new updates to Java are available. Every morning? How often does Java release updates? And why the need to ask permission for something this banal, when programs such as Avast don't? I am left with a less than positive impression of Java.

I had (note use of past tense) a program called SmartDraw that used to pop up messages on my screen advising of new versions of the program I could purchase, an abuse in my view of the privileged access to my system I had provided them.

Then of course there is Microsoft. Just the other day, I had finished tweaking a client presentation, realized I was running late, shut down my machine and saw the dreaded message "do not turn off your machine - applying update 1 of 14." Conversely, when you start up your machine in the morning, you settle in to work and updates having applied themselves, you spend the rest of the morning fighting pop-ups imploring you to re-boot your machine.

This all goes to show that how you interact with your users is important, because it sets a tone about you and your product. At one extreme, you can be invisible to your users, which is bad. But at the other extreme, you can be actively annoying to your users, which is bad. Even such simple things as updates can leave a bad taste if not carefully thought through from the user perspective. As data products increasingly integrate with software, it's important to remember that the user experience sets the tone for the larger customer relationship. So make sure that integration does not produce interference.

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