Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Your Software's Personality

Software is a very cold and abstract thing, really. It's nothing we can touch or interact with. So we tend to anthropomorphize it. We think some software is cute, and other software is a workhorse, and still other software tries hard.

For example, Twitter is cute. It has fun little error messages. It features pastels, lots of colors, a good amount of white space, and cheerful graphics.

At the other end of the spectrum, Photoshop is a workhorse program. It has eight bazillion buttons and menus (I know, I counted), and it feels really powerful if you can just get it to do what you want. Of course, getting a program that big to do what you want is something like knowing how to use a workhorse - it takes practice!

As software engineers, designers, product managers, etc., we can help shape our software's personality. We can encourage users to think our software is fun, or simple, or dense and informative - all by the decisions we make while implementing it.

The first step is to decide what kind of personality we want. Are we building a consumer game that should be fun and irreverent? Are we building statistical analysis software where we want it to be prescient and nonintrusive? Are we building software for highly trained users, where we want it to be very consistent and provide hints without getting in the user's way?

Once we understand what our personality is, then we can find ways to express that personality through software. Consider:

  • The tone of the text
  • Graphics and colors
  • Layout - how dense?
  • The presence (and intrusiveness) of help and guidance
  • the workflows - wizards or menus? how short or long?
Your users will give your software a personality - it's up to you to make it the personality you want.

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