Tool-tips for Toolmakers


I have spent years talking to and training people about how to use tools, listening to pain points, and working with amazing UX, design and software engineers, to try to fix those tools or build new ones. The biggest thing that I have learned is that no matter how many great features a tool has, how beautifully designed the user interface is, how much complexity is behind its seemingly simple architecture, or how many needs it solves a tool will only work if it’s user is informed.

Take email marketing for instance. There are a ton of  tools out there with poured over UX interfaces and robust feature lists and capabilities that range from simplistic to enterprise level.  Most offer a way to easily send and track email to segmented audiences, easy to follow CanSpam compliancy check boxes and tons of metrics reporting data. So if the interfaces of the tool are pretty and they have lots of good buttons and data, is every email in your inbox good? Of course it is not. Do you still feel spammed?  Of course you do. This is because many of the folks sending to you are not informed on how to message, when to message and where it is appropriate to message in a users journey with a brand or experience. But who is responsible for the output of the tool? The designer? The UX team? The engineer? The company? The end user?  The answer is all of the above.

When a tool is crafted the user experience architect needs to think about pitfalls and pain points of the human interaction and design for them by educating the users with the proper flow, a designer needs to make calls to action obvious, intuitive and relevant so steps are not skipped or glossed over, the engineer needs to make sure that they build in validation and error messaging, speed, and scalable code. So now that all that is done, what does the company do? Sit back and collect the money?  Well they could and many do, but that only does a disservice to the tools and problems it was trying to solve.  Not nurturing your tool by educating its users causes more problems to spring up and sometimes these problems can’t be solved so laws are enacted to contain the miss-use. See CanSpam.

Just as if it was a child, a company has to take responsibiltiy for putting their tool into the world. They have to offer support, strategy, and education for their users. Sure their are savants who will open your brilliantly designed and well thought out tool and just intuitively know how to press all the right buttons and send all the right messages, but geniuses are rare. The average user is going to need training wheels and be taught the rules so they don’t abuse this powerful new tool you have given them.

The smarter companies out there are offering this education through great documentation, SDK’s, consulting services, real life usage examples and just plain explaining their tools well to those selling, re-selling or using their tools.  A good company  remembers that blame always trickles back to the source and if a user is wielding your tool for evil, that tool and the company who made it will get the bad wrap, so will its competitive younger brother, and its peripheral older sister. The next thing you know all  communication becomes spam and no one is reading or absorbing the message, good or bad.

Now don’t forget, the user has some accountability as well. The best users seek training, documentation or just plain ask for help, but if they don’t and they continue to abuse your tools, don’t be greedy, just cut them off. In the end it will only protect the value of the tools you are bringing to market.

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