Skin Deep Usability

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28 Responses to “Skin Deep Usability”

  1. 1 Keith Errington April 17, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Great article! It’s unfortunately way too familiar.

    Why is is it that products that work perfectly well and have reasonably good manuals, fail at the first hurdle of getting them working?

    So many times I’ve unpacked a product and found a drawing of an entirely different product in the start-up manual, or a different cable, or a different panel layout, or a… well, you get the picture.

    And you are right about reputation too – only Microsoft could make a touch screen computer that needs a keyboard and mouse. If anything goes wrong with technology, or takes a long time to sort out – just say – “well that’s Microsoft for you” and people will sigh and nod their head in full acceptance of their fate.

  2. 2 maturinnyc April 21, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Thanks for your thoughts Keith – you’re obviously a man who has lived through his own share of tech usability stories!

  3. 3 Piko April 22, 2009 at 5:31 am

    Hmm… Reminds me of the recent video from Seth Godin on how things are broken. Clearly, whoever developed this never really tried to use it. Perchance, was this developed in India? 😛


  4. 4 durf April 22, 2009 at 6:29 am

    Tom Cruise didn’t have problems with his system in Minority Report, but then again he had access to people who could see the future and tell him where things are plugged in once the thing is up and running.

  5. 5 netdud April 22, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    OK–I’m as big a fan of getting the old boot in on bad ideas as anyone but you DO see the irony in what you’re doing here, right?

    You sold a client on a product you apparently had not actually ever started, based on the shiny.

    You wrote a funny article about how hard the shiny is to use, and how it falls short on usability, and you are all about usability, and the supplier you got the product from sucks at usability, and that’s no surprise.

    You then deployed that product to your client, and said how much you are looking forward to developing more stuff for that product.

    There just may a reason why folks who sell the shiny really don’t see a downside to poor usability. As long as you are buying–and encouraging your clients to buy–$17,000 products, MS will not mind at all that you find those products a pain to use, or make fun of them for it.

    So yeah. It’s typical MS. And you’re OK with that.

  6. 6 davidklayton April 22, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Jeez, i am sad to say it doesn’t surprise me. It is a really cool system though, look forward to see where it leads.

  7. 7 bullywug April 22, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    You know, it’s funny. Microsoft make amazing, innovative, incredibly powerful, cool products that people want to love. Microsoft also seems to do everything in their power to screw up that experience for their customers. They truely are their own worst enemy and it’s always about simple things like the documentation. They always give users way too much information up front and leave them angry and frustrated. The Microsoft Knowledge Base is an excellent resource but it suffers from Microsoft’s choice to inundate you with too much information. Just tell me how to fix my problem quickly. I don’t need to read a 5 page tech article on the subject. To compare and contrast Apple has with concise videos showing how to do common tasks quickly.
    I’m not advocating Apple. I had a choice of a Macbook Pro or a ThinkPad T400 and I took the ThinkPad for it’s features, power and OS. Apple’s not a better product, it’s just got a better marketing engine, but that’s not unimportant and I think Microsoft needs to get that through their thick skulls. It’s not just about ads but that it’s also just as important to be able to easily find out how to do common tasks on your computer as it is to make those tasks easy to do. Well thought out, simple documentation is a basic concept that seems beyond many companies including Microsoft. Oh well, I still love my ThinkPad but I do wish Microsoft would get a new documentation writer.

  8. 8 Lee April 23, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Well-written article! I’ve been working with Microsoft’s products throughout the company’s entire lifecycle. Your experience epitomizes so many of my own over the years. If Microsoft would just learn that the user’s experience is ultimately more important than marketed functionality! When I get behind the wheel of a new car, I don’t care so much about the advertised features as I do about how it handles the road and responds to me. I would love for Microsoft to produces such a product – I know it would be great.

  9. 9 maturinnyc April 24, 2009 at 2:56 am

    Thanks for the critical eye netdud – I appreciate what you’re saying, “Don’t get high and mighty when you’re supporting them blindly”. However, I think if you read the post closely you’ll see that my usability criticism relates only to the initial set-up of the Surface – an experience we’ll only have to endure once. When we got it up and running we were able to “…deploy a truly dynamic and stunning user experience on the Surface, which our client is extremely happy with.” And the users who have interfaced with it have all been very complimentary about the experience. Lastly, though I didn’t go into detail on this, we did purchase the unit only after getting several live demo’s of the Surface at Microsoft’s NYC offices. So I agree – you should never encourage plunking $17,000 down on anything sight unseen!

  10. 10 maturinnyc April 24, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Funny you mention Minority Report, as that’s what we all kept referencing as well! Though I suppose if Microsoft could’ve foreseen my inability to locate the plug, they may have refused to sell us one in the first place…

  11. 11 Max.W April 24, 2009 at 4:00 am

    All frustrations aside I’d really like to hear your feedback on the actual use of “Surface” overall once you get the thing to start working that is. From the demo’s I’ve seen this thing looks amazing but an actual demo from you so far seems otherwise.

  12. 12 O.J. April 24, 2009 at 4:05 am

    True, and all the replies on this post are worth reading. Bottom line is, Microsoft (and the rest of us developers) should make their mantra something like: “Usability means more intuition, less documentation.” It really makes sense at first sight of the product that someone can say “Ah, this thing goes with this thing” or “I push this so I can turn this on” kind of stuff, just from the top of his head.

    I guess Microsoft got engrossed too much on the rocket science part and forgot common sense.

  13. 13 Sahir April 24, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Where do you plug the power cord in? Into the wall, you duffers.

  14. 14 Ben April 24, 2009 at 10:44 am

    To your statement:

    “After :20 full minutes of looking and reading, the three of us (each with a 4-year college degree) finally punted and called the help desk.”

    I’m not sure why having a 4-year college degree is of any significance here. There are a large amount of 4-year degree idiots out there. Having a degree doesn’t guarantee you any more ability to figure things out than some high school kid that plays with technology for a hobby.

    Educated you are or not, this product and its maker suffers from a lack of good documentation and support. If Microsoft wants to sell more products it needs to focus on problems such as this, customer experience and customer support.

  15. 15 maturinnyc April 24, 2009 at 11:47 am

    lol! If only the other end of the cord was such a no-brainer

  16. 16 Bruno Pinheiro April 24, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Well, what can we say? Microsoft will never learn.

  17. 17 LL April 24, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    “Never trust a computer you can’t throw out a window.”

    — Steve Wozniak

  18. 18 CF April 24, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    So, are the keyboard and mouse still needed after the screen is up and runnning?

    Because… if they (especially the mouse) are, then… that is quite sad. But if they aren’t, that is also quite sad.

  19. 19 Bob Jones April 24, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    As I was reading through I kept thinking, this is so stereotypically Microsoft.

  20. 20 MadDog April 24, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    “Apple’s not a better product, it’s just got a better marketing engine”
    It staggers me that you can disconnect the user experience from the product so much to make such a flawed statement. It’s exactly that type of mentality that leads companies like Microsoft to release expensive products that don’t tell you where to plug in the friggin power cord.

  21. 21 coolfactor April 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I betcha the lack of touch support was a last-minute discovery and it was quicker to toss in a keyboard and mouse than it was to go back and fix the problem. And an external bluetooth adapter? How hard was that to find where to plug it in.


    You said: “Apple’s not a better product, it’s just got a better marketing engine,”

    You should’ve added “for me” onto the end that. Now, for me, Apple products are way better on so many levels.

  22. 22 Duncan April 24, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    “so microsofty” hahah i know that feeling all too well!

  23. 23 Justin April 24, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Possibly one of the best Microsoft related quotes ever:

    ‘The whole experience was probably best summed up by Amanda who, when asked why it was taking us so long to get the machine up and running, and why we all looked so unhappy, replied “Oh, it’s just so…Microsofty.”’

  24. 24 Josh Santangelo April 24, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    This might be why “installation service” is a required add-on with the purchase of any Surface production unit. That might not be the case if you got a dev unit, though.

  25. 25 Bazza April 24, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Yay thanks for teh article its really bolstered even more the anti microsoft crowd. might aswell return it and get one of the many homebrew surface clones made with spit and cardboard.

    thanks mate, you da man.

  26. 26 Tony April 24, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Great article! Makes me flash back to Zoolander when he and Hansel are jumping up and down like a couple of chimps trying to figure out the iMac 🙂

  1. 1 Items of interest » Blog Archive » Bookmarks for April 22nd through April 23rd Trackback on April 23, 2009 at 10:05 am
  2. 2 iWyre Trackback on April 23, 2009 at 3:46 pm
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