What makes you love -or hate- your research software?
Plant Innovation Research Center, 5PM:
- “I can see all the materials of my germplasm in 3 dimensions, floating in front of me… let’s grab this one… Wow all historical performances are displayed in graphs all around me… I can see its combining abilities with other cultivars so clearly… Hey what is that valve underneath? May I open… Oh no! All the raw data is flowing out, spreading in the air in dense clouds of trait and ontology figures, I can’t stop it… HELP !!!”
- “Mike, did you just fall asleep?”
- “Sooo sorry! I’ve dreamt of the perfect research software and suddenly it became a nightmare… Never mind, a refill of coffee and I’m back to preparing tomorrow’s crosses.”
Your research software is a complex system, enabling you to perform all the tasks of your daily agronomical experimentations.
The design of features determines how easily you learn to use it, how much time and how much mental load it requests from you to run your breeding program and testing campaigns.
So, how much energy do you spend on your computer, rather than study your material and focus on decisions to make?
“ Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible. ” Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things1
What’s a user-friendly research software?
Until the end of the XX’s century, designers were focused on how a tool’s User Interface (UI) complies with several standard, such as the famous “three-click rule”². Since 2000 a revolution has taken place in the history of Human-Machine Interface, with the study of the way people are using a tool, namely: User Experience (UX).
This new approach gets closer to the real usage, notably by describing “personas” and adapting the tools to their usage. For instance, why would a breeder, a field technician, an IT engineer, and the R&D director use the same interface?
The research software must be adapted to every user’s needs. Usability is based on studying users, either by testing the software, or listening to user feedback. For instance, the feedback tool in RnDExp software pushes users’ remarks directly to their IT team or Doriane editors who thus propose evolutions such as splitting big operations into smaller tasks, adding features or modifying the interface.
“ If people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient - or just plain happier - by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.”Henry Dreyfuss, author of Designing for People
Customize software for happy researchers
Even simple changes make a big difference: researchers appreciate to feel at home with a corporate color theme, to avoid boring operations, to get simplified interface for complex settings etc. Another reason to enjoy an interface is the “contextual display” of icons, menus and help according to user rights and situation.
Shortcuts facilitate the use of repetitive and complex tasks: agronomists appreciate RnDExp homepage with a wheel of task shortcuts. Automating has had a great impact on users who thus saved time in their daily work.
Most of all, software flexibility is the key to match with every users’ desires. Configuration of features, tasks and forms must fit the needs of all researchers, and personal preferences let every user adapt its own presentations.
“ The major problems facing the development of products that are safer, less prone to error, and easier to use and understand are not technological: they are social and organizational .” Donald A. Norman
How editors design user-friendly research software ?
Software edition requires staying connected with users: Feedback can be collected directly from users through the software or transmitted by consultants during training and support. But the best way to see things like users is to meet them directly in their research stations or inviting them to an annual User Day.
Testing the software with user scenarios is crucial to delivering user-friendly software. In the Agile method, every step of the development gets tested, so that the software really matches with end user needs.
Designers stay at the cutting-edge of usage evolutions, to propose appropriate changes and prepare the next generation of interface. They also employ much methodologies to make simple the use of features. For instance, they imagine fictional characters representing a user type: The personas. Also, they create successive mockups and redevelopments with Agile method.
“ The best interface is no interface. ” Zorraquino UX Trends 2018
In a nutshell, you prefer user-friendly software
Researchers, you want to focus on your experiments and research strategy, and need a software that lets you work efficiently and creatively with maximum flexibility. But you know your processes are complex, and your needs specific. The research software of your dreams requires to be built for your use, you must stay in touch with the editors, who keep listening to your needs.
The more a research software is suited to its users, the more researchers can focus on their work. Moreover, it facilitates training, accelerates the adoption of the software by the team, and reduces the energy spent by users to comply their daily tasks. A user-friendly software brings much benefits to the research department: it saves money, helps avoid errors and improves social interactions.
“ We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable.
We work with being, but non-being is what we use. ” Lao Tseu, Tao Te Ching4
1 Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
2 The three-click rule on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-click_rule
3 Zorraquino is a design and digital strategy consultancy, specialist in branding, user experience and the development of integral solutions for the digital business. Since 2017 they produce a yearly “UX Trends” report to present the trends in user experience that will mark the year at the UX design and development sector. In more than 300 pages they review the key points through examples and success stories of international companies. https://www.zorraquino.com/en/reports/ux-trends-2019.html
4 Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu, Chapter 11. Translation by S. Mitchell http://thetaoteching.com/taoteching11.html