Experience Design Perspective for Installers

Tonight the Experience Designer lead for the next iteration of our installers will post some thoughts about the challenges of creating a good experience with complex installers. In addition, she touches on a bit of the design philosophy she uses in her work.
Ruth Kaplan is a Senior Experience Designer on Adobe’s XD Core team since 2008, focusing on simplifying complex workflows for users. In her process she covers strategy through implementation in a user-centered methodology. She’s been designing software and service products since 2001, when she finished the ITP program at NYU.
–Eric Wilde

***
Installer design is a special treat for an experience designer – the best user experience is no experience at all. It’s usually unfamiliar; it’s putting bits on your system and words like “fear” come up routinely. No matter what you’re installing or how technical you are, retail customers go through the same series of steps in the same order. Then it might take time; and, btw you have insufficient RAM. We know.
Much of the installation frustration is about how long it takes. As designers, we’re focused on most everything else – working towards easy and clear – and designing a more responsive UI and workflow. As users, we’re focused on getting through the installer quickly and getting to the product. How do we keep the installer out of sight and facilitate a safe installation?
In the CS4 and past install experiences, the installer asked that some applications and browsers be closed, right away. So it’s technically safer, but a more intrusive user experience. Opening those apps during the actual installation step could actually lead to problems… (resource files and other shared components get used and sometimes locked by other apps.)
This balance sits right between back-end facts and an optimally designed workflow. In the end you need both – successful installation, positive experience.
***
In CS5, one of our design principles is to Be Respectful. It’s your machine, after all. The design focus is shifting to allow work to continue, and the installer gets a little smarter about sharing with other applications.
The design challenge is clearly messaging about what comes up, options, or when to close another application if it’s unavoidable. From a design perspective, the error prevention and handling model has been a key focus.
As much as possible we promote more system self-sufficiency in error management… things go wrong. I believe that feedback shouldn’t criticize you. Did you actually make a mistake by using Word? Do people err? When is the right time to communicate system requirements? When we have to indicate something isn’t right, the focus should be on instructive information. To that end we can display messaging inline, contextually.
***
Showing the right amount of information on the custom options screen – but only what’s relevant – is a key design challenge. The interface should enable quick scanning and choosing what you want to install. Not hiding info on one hand, but not bothering you on the other. And which pieces really matter? Showing the information that matters in clear, honest ways goes right to trust – and installation is the 1st Adobe experience with whichever product you just got.
This single configuration screen shows which products can be installed, where they are going on the HD, how much room they take up, just for starters. And then there is the how much to show, by default – a question we’ve been working on with research and testing. Seeing components shared between some apps, with varying degrees of dependence just brings up more questions. On the flip side, not displaying those details means you dig around, wondering.
Except for system administrators, it’s a 1st experience for most people. Because of that key fact, I return to the definition of intuitive as familiar, in brainstorming and reviewing this screen.
In revisiting the configuration screen (much discussed on YouTube), one idea stands out: nobody wants to configure. The strategic goal here is to be up-front but not overwhelming. At the tactical level, it’s an easy, explicit interaction. It’s honoring the no-configure idea by avoiding expand/collapse arrows or pull-downs, using any tools available to reduce the effort it takes to unselect or see more.
All the UI stuff – text and controls – should support the user making an informed decision, simply and accurately. It’s a tough challenge. Accurate just isn’t that simple.
***
The XD process has included going through feedback, user testing with users and going through more installs than my computer ever asked for. Figuring out how to best represent the various parts and their relationship – or not – has left us with an interesting gallery of non-working designs along the path. Since the install experience is workflow driven, we work closely with development to have a shared understanding of that flow.
Getting to that balance between safe and invisible, we try to tilt the whole notion of installing towards a successful experience. If it’s positive, you might just notice it less.

23 Responses to Experience Design Perspective for Installers

  1. Klaus Nordby says:

    One of my biggest pet hates with Adobe’s installers (and many other vendors’s too, to be fair!) is the HUGE amount of files they forcibly install on my C: drive (yes, I’m on Windows) — when I in fact ALWAYS want to install ALL my programs on another drive, usually the D: drive. Why do I want this? The reason is that I ONLY want my Win OS on my C: drive — for that makes making image-based backups (I prefer TrueImage) of my OS an easy, fast process. But when Adobe’s installers put two Gigabytes of data on my C: drive — my desire for a lean, mean OS drive and fast backup/restore is severally thwarted.
    Yes, I know and accept that heaps of shared Adobe files need to be installed by the CS package — but I don’t accept that you need to ram it all down the throat of my C: drive, with ZERO options for me during install to channel these shared files elsewhere. So that’s something I hope you’ll consider for the CS5 installer — for, yes, it IS my computer, and yes, I SHOULD be able to decide what goes where.

  2. Eric Wilde says:

    Klaus writes: One of my biggest pet hates with Adobe’s installers (and many other vendors’s too, to be fair!) is the HUGE amount of files they forcibly install on my C: drive (yes, I’m on Windows) — when I in fact ALWAYS want to install ALL my programs on another drive, usually the D: drive.
    Your rationale makes sense and we’ve heard a number of users say the same thing. This isn’t so much an installer issue as it is a product feature and product design issue.
    There are some components that really do need to go in an OS folder. Resources such as fonts and color profiles are made available to the target system as a whole and must be placed in a specific OS folder. In addition, the color profiles and fonts need to be registered with the OS through API calls. So there isn’t much we can do about moving these types of resources off C: drive.
    There are also a number of Adobe-specific shared components that must be put in a location where multiple products can find them. Arguably these could go into a folder that is not on the OS drive. Moving these components to a non-OS drive would be more of a product design change than anything involving the installer.
    I don’t want to throw my hands up in the air and say “its out of my realm”; but, frankly, I’m not sure its feasible to make any progress in this area in the near future. One of the changes we want to make for installers is to make settings files/preferences consistent across the applications. This will involve a fair bit of design change in the products. This design change is related to the shared components deploying to C: drive. So it may be possible to make progress on getting components off of C: drive while standardizing the settings files. However, right now this is perceived as something less important than things like delivering our installers as PKGs. So realistically I don’t think there will be much progress in the coming year in this area.

  3. Andrew Meit says:

    “In CS5, one of our design principles is to Be Respectful. It’s your machine, after all.” Thank you for finally getting this simple moral fact. That should be placed on the wall in each OOBE member office.
    As a person with several disabilities, sometimes installing and later having forced to re-install after a bad update is really often painful and logistically a nightmare for me. Please have some disabled users doing some testing or pretend to be disabled once in a while doing a (re)install. Look navigating the UI via keyboard or voice; size of text/icons/menus used in the UI. Timing of response during requests for info. Autocomplete some stuff. Just some thoughts from an old hand at QA (Freehand/Fontographer).

  4. Eric Wilde says:

    Andrew,
    I’d really love to get some more input from you on the pain points you experience. We do have some accessibility requirements that we tried to meet in CS4; but, there were some limitations in the UI technology used (DHTML.) In the next iteration we’re moving to a much more flexible UI technology that should help somewhat – particularly with screen readers.
    The other limitation here is that our accessibility requirements are really driven by input from our customers. The majority of that input has been US government requirements around accessibility instead of actual users telling us what they need. So getting some feedback from you directly would be very helpful. I’ll send you a separate email to try to get more data.

  5. I came accross a terrible design problem in a reinstalling process last week.
    On my PC I have a CS3 production premium (Ps, Pr, AE installed), and a CS4 production Premium (Ps, Ai, Pr, Sb, Ae installed).
    For a job, i had to use flash CS3, so i dusted out my CS3 install disk and tried to install Flash CS3.
    The install wanted to repair the “shared componants” and failed to install flash every time i tried.
    At the end of installation, i had the list of errors, and to my surprises the CS3 install even wanted to update/repair CS4 shared components, and was searching for the install path on CS4 disks. I’ve made a screencast if you want.

  6. Eric Wilde says:

    Sébastien writes: At the end of installation, i had the list of errors, and to my surprises the CS3 install even wanted to update/repair CS4 shared components, and was searching for the install path on CS4 disks. I’ve made a screencast if you want.
    Yeah, this is a pretty significant issue that we’re stuck with at the moment. The install technology in CS3 had a number of limitations in the area of forward compatibility. So when the CS3 installer executable runs it will cause some problems with CS4 products. We fixed CS4 forward compatibility; but, its nearly impossible to fully fix CS3 installer forward compatibility (particularly from the DVDs.)
    This answer is completely unsatisfactory. I wish I had a better answer to give.
    There is an (admittedly very ugly) workaround: uninstall CS4, reinstall CS3, then reinstall CS4. This is also an unsatisfactory answer because it costs users such as you WAY TOO MUCH time. Again, we could and did fix the forward compatibility issues for CS4; but, I’m afraid we’re pretty much stuck with the CS3 install executable.

  7. By the way, i had to reinstall all the CS4 updates after my CS3 install failure, because it broke some shared component.
    Glad to hear that it won’t happen with CS4 !

  8. Roel says:

    I find this a very informative discussion. Thanks for the great help here.

  9. Kai Howells says:

    It’s very interesting to hear these comments from the installer team. My personal experience has overwhelmingly been approaching the Adobe installer from an Enterprise point of view, yet there are a huge number of retail customers out there too – and we both have very different needs.
    From an enterprise standpoint, I generally want to either install the entire suite, or a selection of the point products, but generally won’t drill down and heavily customise component by component. I’m generally not interested about upgrading previous versions, as we’ll revise the SOE instead with a clean install of the new version. I’m generally not interested in reinstalling over the top, as if there are errors of this magnitude, we’ll re-deploy the SOE. I’m almost never going to uninstall either single point products, or the entire suite. Say what you will about uninstallers, but they NEVER clean up entirely, there are always some files left behind. To uninstall, we’ll re-build the SOE instead.
    From a retail perspective however, I want the complete opposite of this. I will probably drill down and heavily customise the installation because I like to tweak things. If I have an issue with an app that deleting preferences doesn’t fix, I’ll probably try reinstalling that app, or the whole suite. I may uninstall point products I’m not using to free up disk space.
    I can appreciate the needs of these two groups are completely at odds with each other. For the enterprise environment, all I want are a set of standard installer packages that I can manage with my choice of deployment software. For the retail environment though, I want a pretty installer, something that gives me a positive OOBE and reaffirms I’ve made the right choice spending $$$k on Adobe software, and walks me through what needs to be done because this will be the first time I’ve gone through this process.

  10. Also, coming from the enterprise…
    I’d like to hear something from Adobe about plans for Acrobat and their installer. On the Mac side, Acrobat seems to be a stepchild of Adobe’s installer technology and I don’t understand why.
    Part of my installation difficulties is that Acrobat (even in CS4) still wants to run a post Adobe installer setup. I’m prompted for an admin name and password upon first launch without any explanation as to what Acrobat wants to do. (Not to mention that after some installs I’m repeatedly asked for a name/password at every launch.) Why can’t everything be handled through the installer and not at first run?
    Also, Acrobat’s updaters should respect my original choices for including the PDF Printer and Safari plug-in. I should not be prompted again to install them if I’ve chosen not to installer them earlier. Preferably, the Acrobat updaters would be designed for silent and scripted installation.

  11. Eric Wilde says:

    William Smith writes: I’d like to hear something from Adobe about plans for Acrobat and their installer. On the Mac side, Acrobat seems to be a stepchild of Adobe’s installer technology and I don’t understand why.
    The Acrobat installers are actually completely separate from the suite installers. Its more of an organizational issue than anything else. The Acrobat installer and the Reader installer are completely different technology and a completely different team.
    That said, the Acrobat installer for the next major Acrobat release plans to be completely PKG for the Mac. In addition, the self-healing functionality should be gone (that is the technology that tries to do further setup after first launch.) They planned to get rid of self-healing in Acrobat 9 but couldn’t quite get to it. For the next version it is already removed so really should ship without self-healing.

  12. Keith Humm says:

    Excellent news about the PKG format for Mac! It won’t get me using Acrobat (actually I’m not sure anything but a complete rewrite would do that), but it’s certainly a huge step in the right direction.
    Next point of call: CS6 installers to PKG!

  13. foljs says:

    Next point of call: CS6 installers to PKG!
    CS5 installers to PKG.
    It’s about time.

  14. Eric Wilde says:

    foljs writes: CS5 installers to PKG.
    It’s about time.

    I don’t think we’ll get the retail installers to be PKG in CS5 by default; but, we currently plan our enterprise deployment toolkit to output PKG versions of installers after user customization.

  15. Ron Melson says:

    I have been working on scripting Adobe patches silently to be rolled up into an internal patch script.
    I have noticed that the setup.exe –mode=silent patch for Indesign 6.0.3 will return Exit code 29.
    I have not been able to find the details about this exit code anywhere. I do have a listing of general exit codes for CS4 installers. Do you have or know where I can find a complete list of Exit code for your installers? Something that help me identify this Exit code.
    Any information you can provide would be greatly appricaited.

  16. christie henry says:

    some of my fb games are telling me i need to install the flash upgrade,which i do,then it says complete,yet when i go back 2 facebook it isn’t installed why is that?

  17. Eric Wilde says:

    Christie,
    I’ve forwarded this comment to the appropriate people with the Flash Player team. Neither me nor the team I lead are involved with Flash Player installers.

  18. Bobo says:

    Adobe’s products are CRAP. When are you going to fire those losers [names redacted by moderator]?
    When asked where’s the GANTT chart for Acrobat feature enhancements, [name redacted by moderator] replied “What’s a GANTT chart”?

  19. Eric Wilde says:

    Bobo,
    I really cannot speak for the Acrobat family of products since I’m not responsible for them in any way. I’ve redacted the names to protect individuals; but, some of the names you mentioned are no longer at Adobe. In general I prefer to leave posts as is and let them through, even when they have scathing criticism; but, in this case I felt it better to remove specific individual names.
    GANTT charts can be a useful tool; but, not everyone deals with them in their everyday work. It isn’t accurate to assume that a GANTT chart is appropriate for the wide array of features in any one specific software product. Nor do GANTT charts address many of the challenges of building a complex software solution.

  20. Rick says:

    This is a very informative blog.
    • Is there any way you can make the type scaleable on a PC? I find it hard to read and the scaling function doesn’t work with this blog’s type size.
    • I have no problem with installers which tell me to close all other apps–just tell me BEFORE I download the live update, not at the end of it.
    Thanks.
    P.S. What’s a PKG?

  21. Eric Wilde says:

    I’ll try to play around with the scalable type.
    A PKG is the installer package format preferred by Apple.

  22. Paul says:

    There is one thing that drives me insane about the adobe installers of past and present, and that is entering your password, for every single update, this is not an issue when you only have to do one a week or one a month, but what happens when you have a network full of cs4′s, to todays date there are 35 updaters for the cs4 master collection, thats about 1.4gb worth of updates, thats good news Adobe is fixing issues as they arrise, but as I sit tonight for the 3rd time this month installing a brand new macintosh to go on the network, double clicking each pre downloaded installer .dmg file and entering my password again and again, wait for the installer to complete, then open the next and enter my password again, wait for it to finish, wow it takes a long time. However if I allow the internet update, then I waste 1.4gb of bandwidth for me and for Adobe, but I only need enter my password once and I do not need to push exit on every installer, so it is quick and easy and I can leave it running, is there no way of making something like a software update server like Apple. pleese

  23. ParrotSquawk says:

    As a non-power user but fairly sophisticated computer user (IISSMS) I read this and almost laughed my coffee up:
    There are some components that really do need to go in an OS folder. Resources such as fonts and color profiles are made available to the target system as a whole and must be placed in a specific OS folder. In addition, the color profiles and fonts need to be registered with the OS through API calls. So there isn’t much we can do about moving these types of resources off C: drive.
    There are also a number of Adobe-specific shared components that must be put in a location where multiple products can find them. Arguably these could go into a folder that is not on the OS drive. Moving these components to a non-OS drive would be more of a product design change than anything involving the installer.”
    NO. Except for fonts (and even that is questionable as none of my other programs may need those Adobe fonts) no other programs other than Adobe products need to access Adobe files. Plug-ins for apps like MS Office or Firefox can use plug-ins stored elsewhere on my computer. It IS an installer issue: just make the right registry entries and all love is restored.

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