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: http://nookdeveloper.com



2 thoughts on “A-technical World!

  1. Joseph Labrecque

    These are some really great observations, and I wish users could remain happy and a-technical. Developers generally do not want the user to be complicated by technical details because it can be an interruption of the experience.

    Unfortunate that Apple has made iOS users aware that Flash Player isn’t available for them. This forces people from remaining a-technical. Android device manufacturers that use Flash Player as a platform differentiator contribute to this problem and now iOS general users see Flash as a huge negative now because it means they can’t access something. It’s a barrier for a lot of content and developers are the ones who take the blame.

    I was just asked again if there wasn’t *something* we can do for iOS users who might want to see some of our public video streams on their devices. It’s getting rather tiring to have to explain things over and over again. I’m speaking from a Flash developer perspective, but this can potentially be the case with any technology or platform. I imagine Java developers get a lot of the same flack on various platforms. Heck- I’ve even gotten lashback for using HTML5/CSS3 in some projects as it isn’t supported in “older browsers”.

    I’m thankful that the NOOK doesn’t have this sort of stigma attached to it. Users just want to use🙂

  2. Ted Patrick Post author

    Flash, HTML, ObjC, Java… real users DO NOT CARE. Users want a great experience that just works.

    Consumers do not understand what technologies do or enable, they just want things to work without exception. As a content owner I am going to port my content to platforms to make sure it works without exception. If that means writing native apps for app stores, rebuilding things in html5, porting IoS apps to Android, where are the docs?

    I think the more important developer question is where can I monetize my content best? Where do the great customers live? What devices do they use? What platforms are available there? How fast can I get to ROI on a platform?

    My 2 cents,



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