Rant... please let me help you fix the user interface

Subject: Rant... please let me help you fix the user interface
From: Mike Starr <mike -at- writestarr -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2007 11:39:10 -0400

Okay so I'm on a long-term contract assignment with a teeny-tiny little
software company... three programmers and me. We're a captive division
of a larger company but are almost totally independent.

Until I got here there hadn't been any documentation effort in almost
six years and the product (a suite composed of five modules) had been
altered dramatically from a primarily DOS-based product to a Windows
version. It's a niche-marked product that's been holding its own in the
marketplace but it's definitely dated looking and "clunky".

Ever since I've been here I've been making suggestions that, for the
most part, have been accepted... standardizing terminology, applying
naming conventions, etc.

However, there's a certain resistance to cleaning up user interface
elements, especially to rewording field labels, button labels. As I
approach each dialog box from a documentation perspective, that makes
it an ideal time to consider whether any changes need to be made so I
don't end up having to rewrite the manual.

One of the guys was revising a dialog box yesterday and because he
added a button, he had to tell me about it. We talked about revisions
to the text labels, field formats, tooltip text and statusbar text and
we were pretty much in agreement that it could be clearer. I took a
screen capture and modified it to show my suggested changes and gave it
to him. I think he didn't want to do it because it would've involved
rearranging the location of the controls on the dialog box, not just
changing the text (the text changes I suggested would've required more
room). So anyway, it didn't happen. I even went as far as going into
the programming environment, making a copy of the file for the dialog
box, making the changes and saving it with a different file name so I
don't inadvertently screw something up. If I do all of the work, it
should only take a couple minutes for to check it out, plug it in and
recompile the code. Took me a half-hour or so to tweak the dialog box
but because of my graphics skills I probably took less time to do it
than the programmer would've.

But they don't want to do it... the senior guy in corporate that we
report to told our boss to not mess around with that sort of stuff.
Just heads-down programming <arggh>.

So how do I sell the concept that making the text and button labels
easier to understand and fixing the appearance of things not only makes
the product easier for the customer to understand and reduces the
number of support calls but also makes it easier to sell the product,

Mike Starr WriteStarr Information Services
Technical Writer - Online Help Developer - Website developer
Graphic Designer - Desktop Publisher - MS Office Expert
Phone: (262) 694-1028 - Tollfree: (877) 892-1028 - Fax:(262) 697-6334
Email: mike -at- writestarr -dot- com - Web: http://www.writestarr.com


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