06 February 2011

User experiences - Ommwriter

I downloaded Ommwriter last year sometime and only now realized I had a reason to use it. I wanted to jot down thoughts and reflections, personal stuff, like I sometimes do in a paper journal. But as I started to do that this morning, I became discouraged. My handwriting has become illegible and I don't seem to want to take the time to clean it up. I type faster than I write too. So I wanted to type, but wanted to do it somewhere  special, some place that I wanted to visit to write and read what I've written.

I thought about a blog, but it's only in the reading of what you wrote that you have the kind of aesthetic experience I was looking for. Then I remembered OMMwriter, which is about creating a user-experience of writing. It's peaceful, it's easy on your eyes and ears. The tool is minimal. It's perfect for what I wanted, which was having a special space to write special thoughts in. It feels good to use and that feeling extends into what I do there and the experience of that. It can't confuse and frustrate me because its functions are intentionally limited.

When you read the developers intentions behind the software, you immediately get where they're coming from--user experience.  A couple of quotes from their frequently-meditated questions:

Why don't you implement more formatting features? The beauty of OmmWriter lies in its simplicity. It is not intended to replace your existing text processor. Although it is very tempting to add new features, feature-creep can also be dangerous.

Why do you have a horizontal cursor? During the OmmWriter design process we found that, as a vertical line, the cursor visually translated into a kind of wall or stopping point at the end of your line of text. A horizontal cursor on the other hand acts to open up your text, giving the words more space to appear on the page. We also feel that the small horizontal cursor is less distracting than a vertical blinking line.

I can't tell if their design is based on research and/or intuition, or if they're getting user feedback along the way. It doesn't matter to me really because in an ocean of tolerable to bad technology user-experiences, Ommwriter is a welcomed gift.

Feature-thoughtful not feature-rich design
In Living w/ Complexity, Norman suggests that as users, we want features. Rational or not, we want the gadget that does more, whether we'll use more or not. His argument though is based on mainstream marketplace ideals, namely selling products in a more-is-better society. Those are not my values and not those of many people I know.

As a user, I want features that work well together and with me. So I don't want feature-rich design, I want feature-thoughtful design. Actually, let's scrap the idea of feature and use another word, like function. At its basic level, a tool is a utility in service to the human being using it, and should be designed that way. Personally, I prioritize function, although I don't do it to the exclusion of feel and aesthetic. It's about context. For example, I use Microsoft, not Mac's office suite for those kinds of tasks because the process of creating and sharing files is easier. Sure Keynote and Pages are beautiful to work with and they produce gorgeous stuff, but those extra steps of dealing with "other" file-types makes them undesirable in most situations.