Friday, May 1, 2015

Don't Ever Submit

Submit       sub·mit             səbˈmit         Verb

Accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person

Synonyms: give in, give way, yield, back down, cave in, capitulate, surrender

When a web application or mobile application is ready to postback data to the server, the button that software engineers have trained us to use is the submit button.  We may as well be the dogs in Pavlov’s lab.  The bell rings and we are ready and willing to press the submit button while we salivate over what will come next.  This terminology makes perfect sense to the software engineer because from their point of view the user is submitting or transmitting the page data for processing.  From their point of view it doesn’t matter if its banking data or your review of your favorite Italian restaurant.  It’s all data and it needs to be submitted.  But software is not created to live in a world from their point of view.  If the eight billion people on the planet were all software engineers, the concept of submitting data would make perfect sense.

The emotionless diatoms that write software have even convinced us that submit makes perfect sense.  “Yeah.  That’s the button you push when you are ready to do something.”  Think for a moment about the other 7.9 billion people who are not software engineers.  Think what they might have on their minds when they want to transfer money from their checking to their savings account.  What might they think the button should be labeled?  How about when they place or order for pizza to be delivered after a long day at they office?  What about when your are exiting your Lyft car and you want to give your driver his fee plus the gratuity he earned?  If you said “submit” to any of these questions you have been training by the superior forces who design software interfaces that “submit” makes perfect sense in these cases.  

Resist living in their world.

Stop the madness.  

Don’t surrender the world’s interfaces to the writers of algorithms and database queries.  When you want to complete the transfer from checking to savings, it should be perfectly clear to the other 7.9 billion humans on the planet that the button should be labeled “transfer”.  When you finish your order on the pizza delivery site, the button should say “Complete My Order”.  When you get out of your Lyft car and you want to pay your driver, the button should say “Pay Your Driver”.  Unless you are on some alien world where left is right and down is up, these simple decisions should be completely obvious.  If they are so obvious to the humans inhabiting this planet, why can’t they be obvious to software engineers?

The answer is: Software engineers have forgotten what it is to be human.  Maybe they never knew.  If they could just get out their electronic bubble and live in the shoes of a human for one afternoon – they would see the world the rest of us see.  This world is driven by emotions.  The student ordering their text books on Amazon does not want to “submit” their order.  They likely feel deeply engaged in the process of getting their books.  They may not like how much they cost, they may not want to be taking this class and they may not want to read the books they are ordering, but they do feel something when the order is ready to be placed.  Maybe they would like to “Complete Book Purchase”?

When the software industry cannot get the easy stuff right, how do we ever hope to get the hard stuff right?  Next time you are placing an order, reserving a table or choosing your next class at University, think about what it is your are really trying to do.  What motivates you to be doing this task online right now?  You are likely feeling a sense of completion and a yearning to receive your product.  Don’t give in to the software engineers, don’t back down or cave in.  And above all, don’t ever submit to the emotionless world the software community occupies in our lives.  There has to be a better way.

Neil Alan is Software Engineer with a B.S. in Computer Science and soon to be a graduate of the Master’s program in Human Factors at Bentley University in Boston, MA.  Emotional giants in the user interface industry have heavily influenced Neil.  Neil first met Alan Kaye in 1987 at Talcott Mountain Science Center in Avon, CT.  On that day he knew there was a better way to interact with consumers of software. Since then, Franciene Lehmann, Alan Cooper, Nancy Dickenson, Bill Gribbons, Meena Kothandaraman, Jakob Nielson and Chauncey Wilson have been helping Neil fix the world’s software engineers one line of code at a time.

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