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You've encountered a classic situation involving a programmer's ego.
What he has failed to do is what amounts to usability testing, even at
the conceptual level.
Cub Lea and I encountered one of the all-time greatly obfuscated
interfaces last winter, and unlike your opening scenario, this one had
too much on the screen. Like yours, however, our users hadn't a clue as
to what to do. One of the most telling experiences for us all was to
sit a neophyte user down in front of the screen, give him a little
briefing that he might get from a cursory "Getting Started" part of the
manual, and assure him that his naivete was the most important thing he
brought into the room. We then watched him explore the program, noting
what was easy and what was not. At the end of 15 minutes, he said he'd
learned enough to be able to do in this program what he already knew how
to do in Powerpoint - so why buy this? Point made. Incidentally, the
company is now out of business.
Yes, it's easy to get angry with a programmer whose ego is so blatantly
hooked with his program, where the program will truly not serve the
intended purpose. However, that's the easy way out. Yes, the old maxim
"Don't get mad; get even" works. And nothing lets you get even like a
usability test with a 'typical' user. See if you can rig something like
that. I *swear* that it's much more satisfying than just blowing off