Microsoft: Stop the shiny object syndrome.

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It’s soon time for yet another product roll out, you’re in the marketing team and faced with a urgent issue – we need example demos to excite the developer base?. Like most other Product Managers you look for the nearest and latest vendor, drop a few hundred thousand in their laps and say the words “Can you make it WoW” and then proceed to wait.

The agency at times will come back with a result that’s either really fantastic or really short on execution – in my exp I’ve noticed more of the later. You then take that said demo, slap on the Microsoft branding on it then send it out into the wild as your own – don’t ask, don’t tell is your response on “how”.

Those of you who kind of know how the behind the scenes works on these kind of things are ok with it, as its part of the machine in which a market gets seeded with the said product. Those of you who look at the new shiny toy on offer are excited and are waiting for the final result. Waiting… waiting…and more waiting but it doesn’t often come.

You probably didn’t get the meme on why end of year reviews come internally come and go which in turn means that all work created in the first fiscal cannot be re-echoed in the second fiscal – so yes, the cool little agency built concept gets thrown out with the previous fiscals trash.

This is how Microsoft markets its products daily ranging from websites, applications through to random programs that are meant to simplify your world into a few bullet points or less.

The reality is this, it gets to a point where you simply just roll your eyes at every new announcement and essentially approach it with an element of contempt or cynicism. To be fair, you’re suffering from the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me” effect.

Microsoft really needs to knock it off, its getting somewhat annoying for the customer base. At first I just ignored this overall effect as well I was like many part of the said machine. Now being on the outside of Microsoft and hanging out with the “customers” and “developers” I can see the negative effects it has on the perception of Microsoft today first hand.

I almost want to grab Steve Ballmer and make him sit down in frontline cubicles incognito – like that show where boss’s go undercover in their companies – and get him to see the negative impacts these poorly executed marketing strategies are having.

Disagree? how about this, what if someone were to create a timeline of all the new example apps and promises Microsoft has made in the last 5 years. Then if we were to look at the ones that have sustained beyond a fiscal year, how many do you think would be left?

Microsoft needs to re-focus, re-energize and re-think their current strategies as I think its getting to the point now where there is more noise less signal. I should know as I make a tidy profit right now decoding Microsoft to customers and once they get over the initial shock comes anger then acceptance.

example:

Customer:
“Why didn’t the team do xyz”

Me:
“Because the other team in the org didn’t like it so they had to work around the said team. It’s not an external factor, just an internal political thing”

Customer:
“but i loved it!”

Me:
“Yeah, it was a good idea, anyway..”

Think I’m wrong? ask Microsoft how its going with the design audience discussions? Ask the Windows team what they think of WPF / Silverlight and how HTML5 will play a role? you’ll be quite surprised at the answers of these two questions.

I call this “the shiny object syndrome” (ie once the shine leaves or it gets boring, you’re onto the next one and so on like its seasonal fashion)

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UX Creator Tip: Fear the surrogate user.

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Ever sat on a project and heard someone give their account as to why the user base won’t like xyz feature or UI change? Ever sat in a cubicle and listen to someone rail against the idea of change for fear it would upset the user base to the point where the helpdesk would be flooded with “Please Explain” calls.

Surrogate User – people used as a substitute or representative for users, in order to provide information in design meetings, user testing, and so forth.

The reality is this, end users are surprising beasts and often will surprise you in what they can and can’t do. The end user especially in enterprise is so used to crap-tac-ula software day in day out that anything really that you do as of today onwards is highly likely to be much simpler to what they are used to (especially given the consumerism within Enterprise these days). Furthermore should they dislike the software they aren’t likely to all abandon their jobs simply because of a bad UX decision – as 9/10 they are under duress around crappy software decisions made by other teams anyway.

Instead, the end user is probably thirsty as ever for software that feels simpler to use and actually looks like someone took the time to think about them and their needs instead of how it solves one finite problem only. Software’s job is to react to the end user, not make the user react to it! :)

End users are also making use of a variety of software so whilst one particular UI pattern that has been adopted is “the way they are used to today” doesn’t necessarily mean they are ignorant of all other UI patterns out there on the market.

The key is to leverage existing muscle memory as much as you can today and less showing off on what you can and can’t do with some of the UX Platforms at your disposal. Be creative but don’t be overly creative, you get no points for showing off.

Layer-in complexity is what I always tell people, as it’s much harder to reduce complexity later than it is to bring it in slowly. It’s also the best discussions to have, as if the business or end users are complaining that the software is too simple – which let’s be clear, I dream of these discussions – then you have more of a baseline to draw from going forward around feature weighting and selection (which plays into UX + Agile in a way).

The surrogate user is someone you should fear in all software projects as they often bring pre-existing bad habits forward and lastly suffer from the “I’m in touch with my audience” arrogance (sometimes without realizing. I’m told that a Surrogate User when done right works, i’m yet to see one of these unicorn beasts, but i’m told just the same.

Whenever I hear someone say “Users don’t like..” my first instinct is to respond “Oh? Did 1 in 5 housewives tell you that or is this something you’re just making assumptions on?” – Meaning is this “I think” or is it “I know”.

Surrogate Users are dangerous unless they are moderated by someone who has the “UX” somewhere buried in their resume, as they can often decode the “personal bias” from the science of what these entities represent.

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