Investigating Software from an IA Perspective

Last night my wife and I were up late investigating a piece of software that could potentially be utilized in her salon and spa. It claims to do everything from marketing, online booking, point of sale, client tools, reports, automation of all varieties, provides a unique mobile app, sms appointment reservation & confirmation, and many more.

To any software developer the immediate reaction is “wow, what a massive piece of software”. To the information architect, you’re immediate reaction is “how in the world?”

How in the world can you offer such complex services and claim such tooling in one app, is it even usable? Luckily for me I have quite a bit of expertise in both software development and information architecture (IA) leading to my next concern…

What are the reviews saying?

- “I spent over 60 hours over the space of about 6 months trying to get it set up.”
- “Slow, unintuitive, more bugs than a decomposing body and customer service that is shockingly bad.”
- “There is so much that I get a little overwhelmed.”

These are just a few of the poor reviews I found, there’s actually many more but these were the most concerning from an IA stand point.

  1. Why does it take anywhere near 60 hours to get a piece of software setup? There should always be a walkthrough, whether its a full on tutorial or a simple guide/checklist to get things moving.
  2. I’ll avoid the “slow” and “more bugs than a decomposing body..” and focus on the keyword at hand, “unintuitive”. That is the most hated word in IA. That would should never be used and will never be used in any project you ship.
  3. It’s understandable there’s a lot of content; they promise that in their features. Though, no user should feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to say but it’s a lot to actually address because you don’t know the threshold for an end user to feel overwhelmed. You can however, mitigate.

Addressing all of these in one fail swoop: User Testing.

User Testing would have exposed these three areas before the software was even launched. In IA, you have not done your job if you haven’t exposed your logic flow to the uneducated. By that, I mean people who have never experienced, or been predisposed to, your software/website.

The easiest approach to this is to find test subjects of different ages, technological skill set, etc. and have them answer the basic questions to which the application addresses.

For an application as such:

  1. How would you make an appointment for a client?
  2. How would you create a product?
  3. You have a customer who wants to purchase a product, how would you sell that item to them?
  4. How would you run any simple report you wish?

Those are basic questions for such a software, but are essential for any end user to be able to complete.

This isn’t some rocket science. It’s just doing your due diligence as a software provider, developer, service provider and more importantly an Information Architect.

P.S. Inspiration for writing this article from Lindsey Gaff’s article on Design & IA. Check it out here.