In the process of setting up this blog I quickly realized that in terms of GUI I have no clue of how to work. I know what I like, and I can do a quick GUI usability test having read Steve Krugs book: “Don´t make me think“. But how do one start with nothing and come up with a great design?
I started with a WordPress theme called thematic which apparently was a great starting point for making your own. Made some changes to the design. Went on the internet for inspiration and found several ideas. More conflicting ideas than harmonizing (maybe harmonizing is not the right word here, but you know what I mean). As I was browsing around different programming blogs I stumbled upon Scott Hanselmans blog post: Hire and Pay a Designer and be happy. As the title suggests that´s exactly what he did. He was relieved when he decided to hire a designer. The designer Jeremy Kratz did the design of StackOverflow, no coincident. He further writes that knowing CSS does not mean you can make great websites. At that time I had realized that making a professional WordPress theme would take lots of time. And I gradually adjusted to the idea that although my theme would not be unique the odds of finding another blog with the same is next to zero.
I did not hire a designer but I did get a professional theme by using one from the company: woothemes. The theme also included their custom WordPress extension enabling me to do all kinds of cool things like: easily streaming Flickr images and Twitter messages to my blog, and setting up the layout. Additionally it included several SEO options. Creating a theme like that would be fun but very time-consuming.
So what has this to do with customer perspective? Well when dealing with customers who wants a new piece of software, the following question often strikes me: do they really know what they want? In light of my new shining WordPress theme and the experience being a software customer who thought he knew what the wanted, I was reminded that question is wrong. They know exactly what they want, but not in the way we think. “Do you want to be able to see the customer appointments on your smart phone” or “how about some cool data analysis”. The customer thinks in their own realm: “I want to stop wasting some much time on guessing or analyzing what people fill out on our paper forms”. They think about their daily problems, when we computer scientist often think in technical terms. Somehow I keep forgetting.
During my time at University I had a part-time in a sportshop selling bikes in the summer and skies and snowboards during the winter. I could met a customer and tell them all kinds of technical details about different downhill skies. This pair has wooden core and larger differential on the skies width in front and the middle making it better for slalom than super-g kind of skiing. The majority became overwhelmed by detail and was relieved when I said: “Out of the information you have given me on your skill level and expected usage I would recommend this pair”. And continue with something like: “You might not think of it now, but believe me you want to also consider buying this pair of socks and this ski wax because…”.
In a way that is exactly what woothemes said to me. Telling me through their well thought out theme: “look, we know you want to have a cool theme and this is how you do it. But you might not have thought about SEO in this way, etc…”
So dealing with customers I must remind myself to our main salesman at Computas mantra: “You are not selling a technical lawn mower but a beautiful green field.”