When Designing Software, Think About My Wife

By Spicer Matthews

When Designing Software, Think About My Wife

Actually, that’s a shitty title. It should be, Don’t ever think about my wife again! Maybe it’s best if you think about your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, or cat. Think about the spark that brought you together. Think about the emotional attachment you have to one another.  Think about all the times you almost broke up–but stayed together.

When I design software I try to model it after my relationship. I want every user to be as enchanted with the software as I am with my wife. I want users to trust me in the same way my wife trusts me. I want to have a commitment with every user that is like the commitment my wife and I have for each other. When building software, I try to build that marriage between user and the software with every feature.

Sparking the Relationship

When you meet someone new and there is a spark, it often leads to a first date. You might not be able to verbalize the spark, you just feel it deep down inside. It might be how the person is dressed, how they conduct themselves, where they are from, their profession, and or something you can’t even identify. Often it’s just one or two things that ignites the spark.

When building software, you have to find those one or two things that sparks a user’s interest. You need to convince the user to go on a “first date” with you. Once on the date, you can show off all your other amazing qualities, but if you come on too strong, you’ll never get that date. What are the one or two things that really makes your software spark someone’s interest? Why would they want to “go out” with you in the first place?

The Emotional Attachment

Assuming the first date goes well, it has to be followed by something else. This is when things get deep. You are not going to marry someone if you do not trust them. And you are not going to marry someone who unnecessarily complicates the relationship. Relationships that work don’t feel like work. Your partners is just always there for you, period.

For example, when I’m down about something, I don’t even have to say anything to my wife. She just knows. More importantly, she knows how to fix the problem. Often, the solution is forcing me to go out for beer and a burger with her.

Software should do the same, metaphorically. When I need to get something done, software should just know what I need and guide me to getting it done. For example, Skyclerk users add income and expenses nearly every time they use the product. We don’t make them look around for these functions, because we know that is what they need to do. So on every page we give them a bright green and a bright red button for doing these tasks. No matter where they are in the application, they can always add an income or expense entry. It’s like my wife always knows how to take care of me without me even asking. She just knows.

Because of little things like the burger and beer, I have such love for my wife that I could not live without her. If she left me I wouldn’t know how to function. Sure, I would get by… but I not happily. Software need to be the same way. If anyone ever took away my Basecamp, I would not want to live in that world.  Users should have an emotional attachment to products. That attachment happens when the product is integrated so seamlessly into the user’s life, he can’t imagine life without it.

Building Trust

Trust is the number one reasons healthy relationships work. I would not be with my wife if I did not trust her. Through our actions, we reassure each other of our trust every day. Your software has to do the same. Don’t do things like force your customers to fill out too many fields so you can have better data for your sales department. Customers need to trust that you are only asking for information that will lead to adding value to their experience. Earn their trust, and keep it.

Breaking Up With the One That’s Not ‘The One’

Microsoft Excel is the kind of partner I don’t want to marry. She’s attractive from afar, and I’m sure she can be a great lover, but that just hasn’t been my experience. Everytime I try to take Excel to bed with me, I can’t find the light switch. Then, she asks me to fill out a survey before she will give me a condom. While making love, she’ll often stop and tell me in some cryptic tone of voice that I am doing something wrong. Lastly, I have to pay way too much money for the opportunity to sleep with her. She’s difficult, confusing, demanding, and high-maintenance. I don’t trust her, and she makes me feel kind of bad about myself.

Build software your customers will want to spend the rest of their life with. Make it intuitive, fairly priced, and make it add value to the user’s life. That’s a match made in heaven.