Design: At APConnsulting, LLC, we are strong advocates of the spiral approach to design, first made popular by Barry Boehm. In a fast-moving technology arena, you need to "ride the wave" of paradigm shifts and technology opportunities. There is a constant tension between gadget fads and actual value. It is often almost impossible to understand what has changed when there is a sudden adoption of a new technology. You need to revisit the deployment context, stakeholders, and business models frequently to ensure that what you are designing or purchasing is still relevant.
Areas that can have a critical impact on the success of a technology solution are:
- Market (Does the value proposition for the solution or product ring true?)
- Assessing and aligning the technology with knowledge worker and/or customer usage patterns and scenarios (Is this how it really will be used?)
- Designing the right quality attributes for the intended deployment context (Are there specific requirements such as security or adaptability?)
- Displaying, integrating, and navigating the information (Are there gaps or inconsistencies that might inhibit product success)
Each of these areas is discussed in more detail (click on the hyperlink)
Customize, configure, and adapt: “Ok,” you say, "spiral design processes sound good, but I just need some help with Word or Excel. Can I customize these applications so that I can do tables or <insert your need> more easily?”
The simple answer is “Yes!” But customization is unfortunately too often limited to preferences or the order of toolbar icons.
Example of Microsoft Word
When done well, customization can be an effective means for transforming the visual framework of an application, clustering and highlighting the tools needed for the key usage patterns of a particular role.
For example, if you frequently add and remove rows, columns, and cells in Microsoft Word or Excel, a trivial but very effective customization clusters the visual insert and delete icons into one toolbar.
Solving the technology fitness problem means matching the technology to the actual tasks people need to perform. You adjust the technology rather than adjusting the person. You leverage peoples’ actions and make them more productive.You might think that the ideal technology would match people’s needs right out of the box. However, diverse sets of individuals may occupy the same roles when using a technology, as discussed under Quality Attributes. Products designed to be highly adaptable have an implicit policy that recognizes the differences between people.
Customization falls into two categories:
- Changes that the product policy accommodates. Templates, toolbars, menus, formulas, access control all fall into this category.
- Changes that the product does not provide. There are simply no settings, the settings do not “stick,” or there is no built-in way to script or program the intended usage.
Although most people are familiar with the first kind of customization, they often do not know how to harness these features. For example, Microsoft Office products are highly customizable.* Yet, many people cannot easily plan and carry out effective customization much less transfer the changes to other computers. For these people, the process is just too painful to learn. Offices are lucky to have a “guru” who can develop word templates or add a few icons to toolbars.
The second customization category must be carried out with tools that work between the user and the application, providing input as though somebody clicked or entered information. These macros, scripts, and programs can be quite complex, but the benefits can be immediate. Applications that were difficult or tedious to use can become highly productive when “driven” by such a tool.
At APConnsulting, LLC, we believe that providing for customization is a recognition of the differences between people and between organizations. From our research in an area called “affordances” (visual indications of how things are supposed to be operated), we can assess the need for visual context clues in the products you select. We can organize visually informative toolbar clusters, creating new icons as needed. We have employed powerful macro tools to carry out complex manipulations and override limitations in poorly designed interfaces.
When customizations and macros save keystrokes, they can help alleviate dangerous repetitive motion symptoms as well. Changes in your ergonomic environment can also significantly improve your interaction with computers and other technology. We have direct experience with some of the ergonomic improvements that can inexpensively and effectively reduce repetitive stress before it becomes a medical issue.
*The image we use for customization (near the top of this page) shows the dialog for adding an eyedropper icon to the toolbar. Many people do not know about this powerful complement to the format painter, buried in Word and PowerPoint, which allows you to store and then deposit a format repeatedly. APConnsulting, LLC recommends that you set up Word styles for most of your document formatting. Then you can employ the format eyedropper for touch-ups and for specialized needs such as matching drawing object attributes.