Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Idea that we are thinking about

After my post about it, figured I shouldn't leave you hanging.

Now before you read this keep in mind we were looking for new directions, in business, and speaking to customers and clients and of course for Lotusphere. It is not meant to imply anything about anyone at all, but I am strong enough to accept it's criticisms. This was really meant in the spirit of looking forward, although I am sure some will not see it that way, which is why I decided not to pursue it.

So teflon on, here we go.

Designing Application UI's with Women in mind an unsubmitted abstract

When you read items like these and see the percentages:
Women Graduates More Likely to be working

Women Shoot past men

Fewer Women Graduates lose jobs

Blackberry Exec on women in tech

Women Continue to Outnumber men

Lastly, although from 2003, Perceptions of the Design Process: Gendered Aspects

According to one student, “I never knew there was such a difference in technology for men and women.”

And you see and hear it in the work force, it makes you stop and ask, what if we have been or are writing applications for the wrong type of person? What makes it different? Surely everyone involved provided opinions or forethought as to why or how the application would look and feel and act. What does the younger generation prefer? My guess is widgets that auto update themselves and their owners and auto reply via voice for communications all from their cell phone or Star Trek universal translator Communications link. But do they even know themselves?

Some may argue pink Blackberries are cute and color definitely sells some devices just like cars, although I prefer Miami Dolphin colors. However, a device which is more practical for a woman's hand size or to work with their longer nails in mind, or even have a different shape of the ear piece to avoid earrings might bring a whole new crop of business to RIM. Of course to be fair I'd like my devices to be built more rugged for all the times it falls and my kids toss my phone.

But that's hardware, this is about software.

Apple has made their macs UI easy to look at and work with and continue that with the iPhone and peripherals. Software should be simple, easy and do what you expect.

And so when first thinking about this, I wondered what a Lotus Notes client would look like, and act like, if it was not still thought of as "needing" everything from the last 20 years. The 8.5 iNotes client comes close in this aspect although the UI is still rather formal, to me, to look at in what is a very non formal world, from 1992 when I first saw Lotus Notes. Looking back on it now, it was in some ways a more fun client in appearance than it is now or some might say it was a less serious/corporate UI. Don't get me wrong, Outlook is not here or there and the Ribbon just screams at me,"do what we tell you" because that's how i want to customize my experience.

This is where I intended to go, but couldn't put it all in 75 words of an abstract. What is there now that allows one to customize the client or apps in a way that I or you want, not in the way IBM or Microsoft or even Google wants? What if I want an NFL experience to include my mail client? Just doesn't happen right now.

Why can't it be as easy as Zazzle?
Rebrand my UI with corporate colors, graphics, look and feel. Yes, I am aware one can do some of this, but only to a point and definitely not accomplished by your average every day employee.

You don't think David Butler at Coke hasn't pondered this as well in his plans to stabilize the Coke branding and awareness?

Only to be told no, sorry , it can't or doesn't do that. Why? What is wrong with the way we are designing applications?

The bottom line is if people don't like it, they won't use it, unless forced to do so.

When I asked someone if software should be easier to use or harder. Of course easier is the answer. But if I ask should one require a 20 page instruction manual to program a VCR for example, everyone would say no. Yet how many of these VCRs were really so simple that you didn't need the instructions?

Or to put it in modern times, your home theater, how many buttons on your universal massive remote do you not only never use, but have no idea what they are there for or why?

To return to the abstract,
IBM named a top company where women succeed
At IBM, women represent IBM's largest global constituency. Worldwide, women are approximately 28 percent of the total IBM population, 24 percent of management, 19 percent of executive management, two women are senior vice presidents, and three women are members of IBM's Board of Directors.

And from IBM
women now comprise more than 30 percent of the total U.S. employee population.

Indeed last year at Lotusphere there was a Geek 102 session which I attended and blogged about here. Clearly IBM has recognized this need and interest in a growing population of workers that can not be glossed over and in fact is encouraging them from within.

And the Lotusphere team, at least last year I am not privy to LS2010 info of any sort from anywhere, wanted to pursue a line of thinking which I thought was bold, but perhaps unattainable.Still, I am interested to see if Kristin follows through with some of the ideas from last year.

My intention was to pursue last year's information one step further and try to understand the expectations and audiences our customers will have that use their applications, even if they themselves may not envision it. But on a grander scale at Lotusphere 2010 input, so I submitted it as a BoF, in the end, to see what the world is thinking or if it cares at all, maybe UI is out and voice controls are in from now on.

My view was the Notes client is a rather masculine looking and swiss army knife acting client. What if we changed it to be more feminine, whatever that means to each person, and simpler/stripped down yet efficient? What if that affected how we in turn built apps to run in Notes or on the web?

Bad terminology? I agree. But not much came to mind for the comparison. And thus you can see why I ended up not submitting it. Although the few co-presenters I asked about it were interested in where it would lead and the feedback it would garner, if it was a session.

Probably better suited for LoLA, maybe next year, if we get invited, we will bring this up. Or not.

In looking to stay one step ahead, perhaps I took one step backwards, the idea was right but the wording was wrong or maybe it's just too niche or perhaps all the designers out there get it already. Although from apps I saw this week, you could have fooled me.

We now continue with our regularly scheduled blog posts that do not upset anyone except Microsoft and Google folk.

PS- Remember oct 9th is the last chance to submit your abstracts for LS10.


  1. You're crazy!

    The good kind of crazy.

    But still crazy.


  2. Phil, Thank you, and I know exactly what you mean.
    Not sure others will see it this way but that's why we blog and discuss.

  3. So what exactly is different about coding for women vs other people? Are the buttons bigger? The choices fewer?
    And really, shouldn't all apps just be as intuitive as possible, therefore making the topic of gender completely insignificant?

    Or are you saying (gasp) that women need specially coded apps?

  4. Francie, I knew this would come and you are correct that apps should be done in a utilitarian way, perhaps, I was thinking along the lines of customizations, which of course is hard to develop an app with 100's of UI options but if Wordpress can do it, for instance, why can't we do it in a Notes app?
    The premise was just about what if someone, man or woman, wanted the app to be different.
    Not trying to go anywhere for the hell of it, I am asking a serious question.
    I find some apps appeal to me more than others and questioned if there was such a difference in how people see applications.

  5. I *think* I may understand what you were trying to achieve here Keith. I think you may have just used a poor example. The Notes CLIENT should be customizable from a user perspective. If I LOVE the Red Sox, I could skin my Notes client with a Red Sox theme. Add or remove pieces (widgets) easily and the way *I* find intuitive. Where you have run into trouble here is making it a man/woman thing. You assume all women want simple pink interfaces. And all men want navy blue NFL interfaces. A poor assumption at best. Stick to the individual and don't make it about groups.

  6. Sometimes, singling out a part of your demographic and adapting your apps to accomodate, or rather simply NOT EXCLUDE, makes sense - like the blind for example.
    But even there you're not fundamentally changing an app, you're merely making it more user friendly, making it possible for everyone to take advantage of it's features.

    What doesn't make sense to me is singling out a part of your user population and claiming that they need different apps. Like non-English speakers, atheists or women.

    I'm not a developer, but I am a user and your app has to be intuitive, easy to use, or else I'm not gonna use it, regardless of gender, age or race or religion.

    Now if you're talking about skins, or CSS-like things here, then I agree with Kathy - seems like a worthy topic, but you're definately putting focus on the wrong thing.

  7. Kathy,
    Actually no, pink was an example, but not the idea.
    For instance, why do some people like one twitter app but not another? It's still twitter.
    sometimes it's functionality, sometimes it's UI, sometimes it's about if it works through a reverse-proxy,firewall.
    Like I said in the post, bad comparison in wording perhaps but the point was customization I think is very important in the future but why now, compared to 20 or 30 years ago. What has changed?
    My presumption was a change in balance in the work force has slowly altered the outlook of products and what the consumers want to use and see.
    I had no other way to describe it after this, although admittedly my logic may be bad and thus the premise incorrect. Which I do accept is a possibility.

  8. I think this article relates to the spirit of your abstract:

  9. Wow.
    This is a joke right?
    Normally I agree with you 100%, but on this one I think you forgot to engage your crazy filter.

    Notes Client designed for a woman? Or from a woman's point of view? Ummm, have you forgotten about Mary Beth Raven? Or Susan Bullock?

    Forget the teflon suit, you may want to grab a fire jacket. ;-)

  10. I think the meat of the post is actually in your comment...which you might want to post as it's own post:

    "why do some people like one twitter app but not another? It's still twitter.
    sometimes it's functionality, sometimes it's UI, sometimes it's about if it works through a reverse-proxy,firewall.
    Like I said in the post, bad comparison in wording perhaps but the point was customization I think is very important in the future but why now, compared to 20 or 30 years ago. What has changed?"

    My guess is that what has changed is a baseline competency/comfort level with the users. Back when we had people who really had only ever touched a computer once in their life, and the whole thing was VERY intimidating to them, it was important that the UI be 100% consistent. Both to help the user, and also to keep support from being a nightmare. There are still a LOT of users out there who need directions in the form of "in the upper left corner of your screen, click on the word 'File' gives you a drop-down list, now..." . However, the people who are signing up for Twitter, or applying different templates to their wordpress blog, have moved beyond that to a level of comfort that allows them to play around with the UI and find something that fits their needs (make this widget more prominent) and desires (brand it with my logo).

    There have been some products in the past that offered this in a limited way for the notes workspace, but I agree that the workspace isn't nearly enough. I believe that the direction IBM is heading with the Eclipse client does open some more doors for this. However, in thinking about my Helpdesk involvement, I have to doubt that our company would allow end users to customize their experience. There are network impacts for thin clients on the WAN when you start using heavy graphics, and then there's the difficulties in providing support for a user whose client looks NOTHING like yours, with buttons in different places, etc.

    It is hard to think what else the Notes client might be able to look like while still doing everything it does...but it is an intriguing idea.

  11. I loathe your use of the term 'coding for women' and find it insulting personally. It marginialises an entire gender. I think both Francie and Kathy to their credit have given you more reasoned responses than you deserve. I'd be equally humourless about 'coding for jews' which would also apply to me.

    To be honest I'm not interested in your detailed explanation of what you meant - if you didn't MEAN coding for women then you shouldn't have written that, unless you just wrote it to draw attention to the posting and bait people.

    I would hope you're smarter than that.

  12. Mike, Yeah that started my thinking a bit.

  13. Keith. I swear to god that I sometimes think you only stop shooting yourself in the foot so you can reload.

  14. Spanky, yes did briefly discuss with MBR.

  15. Maria,
    Thanks for the comments. i agree that totally radical changes in UI from one person to the next can be a support nightmare.
    However, no 2 people's browsers are alike in plugins, setup, toolbars, etc.. so it is possible to a certain extent.
    And yes the Eclipse side of development is bringing us to this, hopefully, but it is a progression.
    if we can make a sidebar that is so flexible, why not more of the client as well? the problem then is, what would you or I or anyone want to do with it?
    This is harder to answer.

  16. Gab, Not written at all for attention like that.
    I want the feedback purposely.
    If I am on the wrong track, as some say, so be it.
    I never said this was the way, just pondering this when I stepped back to look at business and what we need to do next year.
    This was just one aspect which kept coming back.
    If I replaced the "stereotypes" with MBR's profiles of users would that be better?

  17. Paul, somethings never change, sorry, but if one can't post thoughts for discussion on a blog, then what is the point?
    Like your post on 3rd party products on Domino the opinions are on both sides of the fence.
    Is it any different to when driver tests are in multiple languages? Shouldn't they all learn English?
    Why is this so different?
    Because I mention gender?
    I purposely looked to find recent data that outlines this information, not just a shot across the bow for fun and hits.
    Why would I purposely try to piss people off? What good would that serve anyone?

  18. Francie,
    Sorry missed your followup.
    Yes, customizations should be a priority but that begs the question of which customizations.
    Until a every day non-IT person can customize any application like say, igoogle or the portals then it's a problem.
    And what I imagine we would see is distinct differences that can be better defined in one way or another.
    You don't have to agree with me and that's okay too.
    Why do marketers create a toy for a boy, then make it pink and offer it to girls? That's gender bias and stereotypical stupidity.
    But it happens everyday and sells for them.
    This is about business and productivity and my belief that businesses could learn a lot from the way women think and how the products we all know and love could really have a great future if it was applied, and possibly sold, in a different way.
    Maybe that is where I ultimately will go with these ideas.
    Still thinking, but wanted others feedback and still encouraging more feedback from non-IT people in the business world since they are who we as a business ultimately will be selling our services to in the future.

  19. LOL

    omg dude.


    ok. so.

    IF one were going to code for men vs women you could code more subtle, textured and sophisticated UI's for women as compared to men. it's men who need Big Shiny Things in Very Bright Colors. esp considering way more men are color blind than are women. if you were coding for men, you'd want to use a lot of blue and shades of blue, and green, no red at all generally speaking, since for many men red = gray.

    look at the ads in magazines for men. look at the ads in something like Redmond magazine, clearly targeted to mostly men even though there are lots of women in IT these days. you see all kinds of sophomoric and very loud HEY LOOK AT THIS IT'S A SHINY SUPER HERO MOSTLY NUDE MODEL FROM OUTER SPACE OVER HERE kinda stuff. pretty much the same thing in Wired. look at a magazine more targeted to women and the ads are totally different, subtler, with actual text in them.

    i'm sure i don't know what you were posting about, i can't make it out (hope that doesn't sound rude i just can't honestly tell) and therefore what i am writing here is probably a bit off topic, but IF we were going to have that discussion, the men would be much more likely to, well, not look quite so good compared to women, as regards the sophistication of application UI's. maybe MBR would say different, i'm NOT an expert (although obviously i have given it at least a modicum of thought), but that would be my back of the envelope guess.

    something tells me i shouldn't post this comment, but what the hell. we still loves ya man.


  20. Keith.

    Its not what you say. Its how you say it. If you don't understand that by now, you never will. So I will leave it there.

  21. Paul, I do know it, don't get this far in life without knowing one's limitations.

  22. Jonvon, Thanks, I think. Discussing advertisements is only a small piece of the overall puzzle.
    As is color, why does everyone always focus on color.
    it's not about color as much as simplicity, ease of use. But the crux is what I find easy to use and my wife finds easy to use are 2 different things.

  23. Why not have @userintent so that the UI would be interpreted based on each individual's own personal preferences? And if you're really going to develop based along feminine lines, you best get cracking now...because you'll ever keep we women like change, constant change -- haven't you seen how many shoes/handbags "we" purchase...? Seriously -- if there were a need for gender specific software, we would have asked for it or coded it ourselves.

  24. Marie, I would love to see an app that could change itself as easily as I change the bitmap background on my desktop.

  25. @Keith - yes MBR's user profiles would have been much better than gender

  26. The problem with your premise is that the examples you give have nothing to do with gender. You make some valid points in your post - that the way people use computers now is different and that customization should be available - but that's relating to the individual, regardless of their gender.

    In the comments, you say that you and your wife find different types of applications easy to use, and apparently you've used that example to jump to the conclusion that it is due to gender differences. Yes, men and women are different, but so are people within a specific gender, race, religion, or nationality. It's customization based on individuality that should be looked at in application design, not customization based on one physical attribute.

    In case you haven't noticed, women are a diverse group. As for the women who have commented on this post, I doubt that Francie, Kathy, Maria, Gabriella, Marie, or I would have the same opinion about everything (or necessarily anything at all!) just because we all happen to share a gender, with the possible exception that we all think your post is ill-conceived at best and offensive at worst.

  27. Kathleen,
    Thanks for your comments but is it such a bad thing that more women are in the work force or graduating from colleges or starting their own businesses?
    And what does that mean for the future is what I am wondering.
    I don't see this as a bad thing in any way shape or form.

  28. Keith, how could you possibly have extrapolated that from my comment? Where do I say that it is bad that more women are in the workforce, graduating from college, or starting their own businesses? I never said or implied such a thing and I do not understand how you could have possibly thought that I did.

    I think you are confusing the issue - the workforce and the way people work have changed, but not just in the arena of gender. Application design should take that into account. However, implying that an entire gender would all use an application the same way is not just incorrect, but insulting, particularly when there is an additional implication that women need simpler interfaces.

  29. Despite your complete misinterpretation of Kathleen's comment, I think you'll find you're out of step with reality here

    "more women are in the work force or graduating from colleges or starting their own businesses" ... uh Keith I don't know how to break it to you but we've been doing that for about 20 years now. At least all the women I work with have (see I won't even conform to the gender stereotype of hiding my age how's that for confusing)

  30. Suffice it to say this has been an interesting discussion.
    Thank you all for your comments.
    If I upset you by the thoughts posted it was never my intention and I apologize.