Those who develop applications should have to support them. If YOU were going to have to deal with people getting confused by your stupid user interface, with the techno-illiterate misunderstanding every icon in your toolbar, with the training of users who feel that using a computer requires no effort on their part (and if they have to expend any effort whatsoever then the software/computer is broken!), then I think you would be significantly more circumspect when making “design” decisions.

Sorry, that first paragraph comes across fairly rant-like. It’s been a long day and whilst few of these issues have reared their ugly heads today, they are things I have had to contend with before. My housemates and I were pondering this at the weekend though. Amongst us we had a number of views … from the usability-centred one that people should be able to “just use” a computer interface (i.e. that they should be intuitive), all the way through to the view that people don’t expect to be able to fly a plane without training … so why do they think they should be able to use a computer without putting any effort in?

Although there is definitely some onus on the user — and personally I think it would be great if people took more of a responsibility for how well they can use a computer — I still think there is a definite need for developers to be aware of their user’s needs. And nothing highlights those needs better than having to support users who are attempting to work your application, website or even use a piece of equipment.

I think perhaps this is one of the key differences between the professional and the open source world. Because in open source your code and your interfaces are there for everyone to see, there is much more incentive to do a good job — to program elegantly, to help users to make the best use of what you produce. To an extent this is aided by the relatively smaller size of more open source application (granted, there are massive ones too, but most open source developers start out with an itch … and produce something small that is often ripped to pieces on the first iteration. They seem to learn from this), but even small applications in the business world will have the testing and the support completely separated from the development.

I realise that a lot of people don’t like doing support work. A lot of developers seem to think that it is beneath them. But I think an awful lot of them would learn a great deal and become much better developers if they actually had to deal with the results of their design and implementation decisions.

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