Why everyone needs a better experience of software

If someone makes the wrong decision what might be the impact? It could be frustrating, or dangerous, or even fatal. We all make decisions all the time – what to eat, what to wear, what to read or watch. And frequently we make very important decisions – financial decisions, life changing decisions. We also rely on experts and professionals (nurses, doctors, pilots, financiers, politicians) to make decisions for us.

Apart from our own knowledge and brains, the tools we have to help us are technology, and software. Technology is cheap, and has become the basis for much of people’s decision making.

Software as part of that technology is now ubiquitous, but often fails to delight us. It fails to support good decision making. When the technology goes wrong, when the software is flawed, what is the impact? For example, a satnav that is out of date may give us directions that take us into a road that is no longer driveable. As humans we then need to engage our own brains and override the suggestions of the satnav. But often when automated decision making is provided, people will over-rely on it and fail to over-ride flawed decisions – the [automation bias].

This is important because of the breadth and scope of the decision making that technology supports. Many people are using a wide range of different systems to make many types of decisions:

  • The impact of our decisions may be personal (shopping, dating, entertainment, directions for travel) and important to us, an individual.
  • The impact may be organisational (financial forecasting, data analytics for marketing) where the outcome of the decisions is important to a board and shareholders.
  • It may be geographical, political and global (weather forecasting, border controls, international policing) and important to citizens of many countries.
  • One country’s politicians may use decision making systems local to one country (medical/health population trends, voting systems) and the impact will be on the politicians and the general public.
  • The people using technology may be experts / professionals (doctors, nurses, pilots, farmers) or lay people (patients, travellers, shoppers).

The reasons that technology and software may prompt poor decision making include defects in the software that mean it does not function correctly. If we are lucky, the defect will be sufficiently bad that it is obvious the output is wrong, and so people will correct the software, or ignore/override it. Sometimes, the software is wrong, but it is difficult to see that it is wrong. In that case, people are misled into trusting it, and so may make poor decisions based on flawed advice. More subtly, the software may function correctly, but in a way that does not aid people in making good decisions. The software may be slow, insecure, hard to use. The “user experience” (UX) that a person has when using technology and software should be beautiful, that is what is intended. But dealing with frustrations, defects and consequences of poor engineering is a bad experience for the people using the technology; a flawed, ugly UX.

So – why is technology flawed? Why not build it well in the first place? I will discuss  a couple of the reasons for that in my next blog.