Mar 11, 2009
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.
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.