Why is Software so Awful to Use? A Case Study and Call to Action.

Why are apps, websites, software, and other products still not very nice to use? We’ve spent more than a decade as an industry focusing on user experience, and yet I consistently find myself frustrated with the miserable experiences I have doing the simplest things on websites, in apps, in other software, and using a variety of consumer products.

I just went through a miserable experience trying to update an airline reservation. I won’t mention which airline because despite their really awful website (let me fix it, please, please, please) I love the company and in real life (not the web) my interactions with them are superior. Bear with me as I describe my experience (or see my conclusion at the bottom).

I found my reservation easily enough and found the button to change just one leg. That was nice. I wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally changing the other leg. On clicking the button, I expected to see details about that leg, but instead I got a choice of four buttons: change cities, change dates, change times, change seats. Ummm, I’m changing all of them. So what should I pick? I choose change cities and assume the rest will be changeable as well (this turned out to be a correct assumption).

I see my current flight information across the top. That is nice. It verifies what I am changing. It turns out having that information was REALLY IMPORTANT. There are 3 radio buttons: round trip, one-way, multi-city. Round trip is already selected. Wait, I’m changing only one-way. Why is round trip selected? The whole trip is round trip, but I’m only changing one part. What to choose? I left it alone because surely they would have defaulted to the right choice. Being skeptical I scrolled down the page and saw they wanted me to select travel in two directions. So they didn’t default to the right choice. I scroll back to the top and select the one-way radio button.

I had to wait for the page to refresh. When it refreshed the page now showed select a date. Wait, I haven’t changed my city yet! I scroll back to the top to pick a city. The departure city is fine, I select the destination. The screen refreshes back to select a flight and the departure city is not the one I selected. What? I did not change the departure city and I have yet to select the date. Scroll back to the top and select the correct departure city. Which changed the destination too, so I had to reselect that.

Wait for the screen to refresh. Again. It refreshes at select a flight. Thankfully it now has the right cities, but I have not yet selected a date. Scroll back up to select a date. The screen refreshes back to select a flight, but the date has not changed. Scroll back up and see that the correct date is selected. Re-clicking it does nothing, so I select a different date. The screen refreshes at select a flight and it does have the date I just selected (which is not the date I actually want). I scroll back up and select the date I really want. The screen refreshes again at the point to select a flight.

At least now I have the right type of flight (one-way), the right cities, and the right date. Now I select a flight. I get a banner saying the change is being processed, then a message that said something went wrong, try again, or call us.

I just wanted to cry from frustration at that point.

This whole process took me far longer to do than it took you to read about it, and they are asking me to start over. They even provided a helpful start over button!

Sadly, my experience that day was far from unique. That is crazy. We humans should not have to work so hard to do simple things with a computer.

I want to do something to make things better. This is what gets me so excited about Solution Anthropology.

Solution Anthropology blends practices from Business Analysis, User Experience, Solution Design, and Anthropology for the purpose of creating solutions that delight the users. It is a user advocacy role and a terrific way for Business Analysts to grow their knowledge in a way that expands career opportunities. Solution Anthropologists work in companies of all sizes from major corporations to startups and work on solutions in areas such as software, business process improvement, branding and imaging, mobile, and product development.

I am working with my clients to incorporate Solution Anthropology practices into their projects, whether Agile, Waterfall, or other. Everyone is happier when we do. And maybe someday I’ll get my favorite airline to apply Solution Anthropology to their website!

Geri

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Geri Schneider Winters is the primary author of the popular Use Case book "Applying Use Cases: A Practical Guide" and the founder of Wyyzzk, Inc. She has over 25 years experience spanning the software development lifecycle. Geri has learned her craft working with folks such as Grady Booch, Jim Rumbaugh, Ivar Jacobson, Walker Royce, Scott Ambler, Warren Woodford, Philippe Kruchten, and Kendall Scott, along with many less well known, but equally talented, people. Geri has worked in many companies in many industries, including IBM, Boeing, Lockheed, Adobe, Intuit, Delta Dental, United Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Money Store, Charles Schwab, The Federal Reserve Bank, Visa International, USAA, Stanford University, University of California, Carnegie Mellon University, HiLCoE College, Agilent, Knights Technology, Deloitte and Touche, Safeway, and Coca-Cola Enterprises.