Image by dannysullivan via Flickr
I am a big fan of Yahoo! mail. I like the interface, I like the functionality, and like the overall package. I've used it for many years now. Recently, however, I started to look at another mail system. This, of course, is the G-Mail system provided by Google. Up until now I have been hesitating to use the system because of one huge reason: I don't actually like the interface.
It, of course, has some great functionality. It's quick, easy-to-use, and slick. Millions of people use it every day. Every forum and web site that I visit usually has some very positive comment about the Google mail system. So what don't I like? Good question. I think the reason I dislike it is because it fails in comparison with Yahoo! on the aesthetic level.
It just doesn't look as good.
However, recently I came across a Firefox extension that completely removed every obstacle I had to using Google mail. It's called GMail redesigned. What it does is completely change the look and feel of the Google mail interface. And it does it in a way which is much, much, better than the existing set of Google themes. This very subtle, simple, change has completely transformed the way I view Google mail. It is now my primary mail client.
I find this very interesting for a couple of reasons. The primary reason is that my view of the software has been completely changed: not by the functionality, but by the appearance. This started me thinking about how many other people are influenced by the way a thing looks rather than the way it performs. Imagine if all your users had the same initial reaction to Google as I did. How much more difficult would that make your job?
I know it's not logical. I know that I should be influenced by the functionality rather than by the appearance. But, it is a plain fact of life that sometimes appearance accounts for more than functionality (Just ask the lonely but intelligent nerd sitting at the side of the dancefloor while the cute cheerleaders all end up dancing with the hot jocks.)
Now imagine you are a project manager who is trying to implement a new, large, complicated, software system in an organisation. How much more difficult will your job be if the users are focusing on how the new software looks rather than how it works? I would suggest that this is not a situation you want to find yourself in. I, personally have been in this situation (or one very similar). Many years ago I implemented a financial package in Germany. The existing package, whilst old and limited in it's functionality, was much loved by the users. They didn't want to change. But even if they had to change, they wanted to implement a German package, SAP. I was coming in with a little-known American package which they had never heard of. At the very beginning of the project we gathered everybody together in one room. The financial director - who was the sponsor of the project - said, in German, "I would like to thank the project team for the work they are about to do. We know that we don't want this system, and that we would prefer SAP, but at least we will help them as much as we can." What a way to start a project! This was a situation where the users had convinced themselves that the functionality was not important but the software they had chosen was more important than the software the project wanted to implement. It all came down to appearances. The SAP. software was written in German, it adhered to German standards, and the support was all local. Thus, the appearance of the software meant more to the users than the functionality of the software.
Of course, it's not always like this. Usually problem is the other way round. The users don't particularly care what the software looks like, but they have to have functionality that they can use. The usual complaint is "It looks good, but it doesn't do what we want". I suppose it just goes to show the can't always get what you want.
So, how do we deal with a situation where the uses don't want the software that you are offering? Good question. My advice in this situation is to understand where the actual resistance is coming from. Are the users resisting the software totally, or are they resisting a specific aspect of the software? Remember, in every project involves change (which is usually any project that you're implementing) you are always going to get users who will be resistant to change. It is the nature of the individual. The trick with all change project is to identify key change agents who can help you achieve your ultimate objective and win over those individuals who are resistant to change.
On the subject of applications that people don't like I read an interesting post from Wide Awake Developers today entitled "Why do Enterprise Applications Suck?" Quite true, quite amusing and worth five minutes of your time.
I still wish GMail Redesigned had appeared several months ago though. Or are least I wish I had discovered it a lot earlier. It would have made my life far, far, easier.
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