Monthly Archives: July 2011

A-technical World!

Since joining Barnes & Noble I have been trying to better understand our core customer demographic for NOOK and the target user for mobile apps. This exploration has really changed my perspective on consumer software and what end users actually want, love, and most importantly expect. It has been an unexpected and eye opening experience yet it highlighted a truth that I seemed to know was true all along.

The world is by large majority a-technical!

When I write software I automatically bring a technical bias to problem solving, interaction, and UI. I make assumptions about my target user and this is where I fail. I assume they can install software, complete forms, gestures, can use the back button, understand the mouse, right-click, know something is draggable, know how to use a drop-down, etc… all the basics apply here. At issue is that each of these skills, reduces the overall addressable market for my app. The more I assume, the smaller my potential user base for my app. Designing apps for a-technical users really means starting fresh with a simple foundation of assumptions about the user.

I have found that there are 4 great techniques for addressing the a-technical users:

Write down your assumptions. Writing down assumptions lets you see the skills you are asking a user to perform. It provides an inventory of skills from which you can add new features without alienating users. Even the simplest of assumptions apply.

Teach – Ever notice how good games teach end users how to play progressively? Typically to broaden the market for a game, developers will have several levels that are essentially tutorials. How to shoot… How to throw a bird… How to use the camera. Great apps teach end users how to use the app progressively.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid – The other approach which has gotten every popular lately is to strip away features down to the core. Sometimes the best app does just one thing and does it very very well. The focus on simplicity removes user confusion and lets users take full advantage.

Prototype – Looking at UI allows you to quickly assess the complexity. It also makes implementation far easier especially with great tools like Balsamic Mockups. One trick I have found that is helpful is to ask an a-technical user to explain a UI back to me. You will be shocked at the responce you get in using even the simplest UI elements.

What gets really interesting is that most users on NOOK have no idea it is Android. They just expect an app to work when the icon is pressed. Users just want apps that are easy to use, provide value, and are fun. If you are interested in building apps for NOOK, you can sign up here: