Designing to the demo is a mistake

A lot of software design clearly aims not at providing the best experience to the user, but at providing the most impressive demo. Apple does this all the time, or at least that’s the only explanation I can think of for their design decisions. Getting people to applaud in amazement doesn’t get loyal customers if the product is terrible in everyday use, though.

My current Garmin car GPS device is a good example of this. To enter an address, you enter first the street number, then the street, and finally the locality and state together. This sounds very natural, much better than my old device where you started with the state and worked down to the street number. The trouble is that when you use the new device, you find that auto-completion is useless.

Garmin GPS device showing autocomplete
When I start entering a street name, it has no idea where the street will be, so auto-completion offers useless suggestions at first. In the photo, I’m trying to choose “South,” but it’s competing with all the streets anywhere that start with “Sou.” I have to enter more letters before it narrows down the results enough for me to pick one. If it’s a multi-word street name, I might have to enter most of the name with the screen keyboard. Then when I enter a town, it treats the town and state (or province) as a single comma-separated string, so auto-completion works not just from all towns that start with those letters, but all town-state combinations. If I’m looking for a town that occurs in dozens of states, like Springfield, then I have to shift to enter a comma, then a space and the two-letter state name. Argh!

With the old device, I entered a state first. Then I’d enter a locality, which would auto-complete only from the ones in that state. Then I’d enter a street, where I only had to pick from streets in that locality, and finally the street number. It was a narrowing-down process, and the device could help me make reasonable choices at each step.

The only reason I can imagine for the change is that someone said, “We can tell people at the demo that it lets them enter addresses in a natural order, the way they’d write it!” Engineers doubtless protested that it made more work for the user, but the marketers won. The result is that Garmin’s newer devices are more of a pain to use.

User interface design should be user-centric, not demo-centric.

Comments are closed.