Recently I received an iPhone as a gift, and I was ecstatic! The phone is spectacular in many aspects. Playing music, video, browsing the web, photos is hands down the best I can ever imagine on a phone or a personal device. Despite all the excitement, like any early technology, it needs work in certain areas. I have found that productivity tools, both native and third party fall within this area.
One of them is in the area of notes, something to jot down and keep track of pieces of information.
Rather than jumping into what's out there and what features each of them have, since this is a blog about user interface design
for web entrepreneurs and developers, I wanted to start off by first evaluating the needs of notes. At the heart of every great UI design is a keen understanding of users' needs. So, Let's dive in:
Scenarios of Notes
First of all, what are some common scenario that I or anyone else might need notes?
- List of things to buy at grocery store
- List of books to check out at a bookstore
- List of things to bring for vacation
- Notes about what to write about on a blog
- Basic log of something: mileage, exercise, simple expenses
- A few keyword notes to help remember points from a presentation
Summary of Scenarios
looking at the above scenarios, you can generalize that the purpose of
having notes is to keep a list of information for a later use whether
it's to buy something, write something up, make a decision, etc. Yes,
this seems very obvious, but please bear with me.
Why is it that we
use notes? Alan Cooper in his book
About Face suggests we need to go beyond features and consider human
goals for making successful products. When human goals are central to
product development, innovation and sustainable competitive advantage become present in products.
A simple answer to
why we use notes might be: "Well if I don't use notes, I would forget
things and waste a lot of time when we need to get things done."
Simply stated: We take notes to
increase productivity - so we can retain and access information at the
right time and at the right place. Wouldn't you agree that conversely, not having notes when you need them would decrease productivity?
Let's see some ways we have used notes historically and as of recent.
Looking at how people currently perform a particular activity is where it gets interesting and another way that we can discover unmet needs. What are existing
workflows for this need? What have we done historically?
Since the advent of paper and still in many cases:
1) Write notes on paper- Jot down notes and bring it with us for when
it's needed. Here are some problems with this method, as we all know:
Since the advent of computers
- Easy to lose - a piece of paper can be hard to track down
is not easily transferrable - you would have to retype it electronically if
you want to store it digitally and use it in other forms
, where once information is entered electronically it can be used in other forms:
(Activity 2) Gather information on the computer and print it when necessary. Some problems here are:
Since the advent of PDA's and smart phones
for you to be prepared in advance - Information must be printed beforehand and carried with us when we need it.
- Printer dependent - There may not always be a printer available when we need one
- Wastes Paper - Printers don't use scraps of paper or post it notes either
3) Gather information on your computer OR your smart device and
synchronize the information between the two machines. Synchronization
between the computer and device has solved many problems with the
original productivity goal: get information stored somewhere, access
it almost anywhere. The minor problems ith this activity have been:
in inputting new information into the mobile device - Whether it's an
on-screen or qwerty keyboard on the device or handwriting
on a screen with a stylus, it isn't as easy as typing on a full keyboard or
writing using a pen
- Need to have the smart device with you at
all times - This hasn't been as much of an issue once these smart devices have
been better integrated into our phones. Our phones are within our reach
most of the time.
We now have scenarios,
models of current activities, and an overarching goal. From all of the
above information, how can we drill down on the overarching goal and
drive the design successfully?
Goal: Increase productivity: Retain and access information at the right time and at the right place. If we drill down on this goal we have factors such as:
- Speed of entry - Whether it's writing, typing on a full keyboard, or a
keyboard on a device, we want to get the information in as quickly as
- Information is easily accessible - When you want to use it, you want information immediately
- Dependable Record Keeping - Once the information is entered you want it to be in a form that isn't lost easily
- Transferable - You want to be able to use the information in other forms
Needs Review Summary
Do the above goal drivers seem absolutely obvious to you? Yes it seems quite obvious. But looking at the iPhone notes applications that are currently
available, are these goal drivers being met? NO. Because of new technology such as the iPhone, does this allow us to be more productive than other devices? No. What about the scenarios described above? Can these applications handle common scenarios better than before or even just as good? No. So looking at several applications that are available, what's described above is NOT as obvious as we thought. Because if specifications and user needs for a notes application was obvious, we would have solid notes application on the iPhone. This certainly means that what we described above is not obvious especially for developers and web
entrepreneurs, the creators of these applications.
Do the designers/developers of these apps think about how well their
product can handle the scenario when someone goes grocery shopping? Did they
look at their application and compare it to Activity 1: writing it on
paper and evaluate how using their technology is better than these original acitivities? From what I see as a user looking
at existing applications for notes on the iPhone, the answer is no.
could attribute my points as mere complaints or frustrations with a device not meant for taking good notes. You could also say that this
is the fault of every early technology. But the truth is, if the needs
were assessed properly and the product development process was done
right the first time, we would already have great products for
something as simple as notes with almost equal effort. Certainly, the technology is more than available to make that happen.
II I will review several iPhone notes applications from a human needs
perspective and what developers and web entrepreneurs can learn to
produce better products for even seemingly simple applications like