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Ridiculous Roller Coasters and Seamless Custom Software Experiences

Sep 29, 2014 Software Alex Jonathan Brown

custom_software_and_roller_coasters-1Montazooma’s Revenge is a ridiculous name for a roller coaster. The zoom part makes sense because it’s a roller coaster. The rest of it is a horrible name for anything at a family establishment. I rode Monatzooma’s Revenge (the roller coaster) this weekend at Knott’s Berry Farm. Walt Disney wouldn’t let this Montazooma’s Revenge stuff fly in his backyard. But this isn’t a blog about theme parks; it’s a blog about technology. The difference between Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, however, could be the difference between success and failure for your next software project.

Even if you’ve never been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you have a basic idea of what to expect. Princes and princesses walking around, probably a castle somewhere, and some kind of Space Mountain. It’s an extension of the same Disney-verse your family interacts with every time your five-year-old pops in their favorite DVD for the millionth time.

You know Disney and your experience interacting with Disney’s theme parks backs up the knowledge you already have. 

Knott’s Berry Farm lacks that name recognition, especially if you’re from Indiana like I am. It’s a blank slate and you begin building your impressions of it from the first second you pull into the parking lot. KBF has some great rides, but the biggest difference you feel from Disney’s parks deals with the presentation. 

Every aspect of the Disney parks reminds you that you’re living the “Disney Experience.” Without a larger overall theme, a day at Knott’s Berry Farm feels like you’re spending a little time in the Old West, a little time at a boardwalk, and maybe a little time at Camp Snoopy. Even if you really enjoy each of those separate parts, your day winds up feeling more than a little disjointed.

No matter how “serious” the custom software you’re building is, there’s a big lesson to be learned from these theme parks. Whether your end users are employees, team members or customers, you want their experience with your software to feel cohesive. Here are three big areas you need to pay attention to to make sure the users of your custom software go home happy.

1. Design

There’s nothing more distracting than opening up a new area of a program and facing a brand new interface that you weren’t expecting. Managing the style of each section of your project (and navigating the transitions between all of them) takes a lot of attention to detail, but it might be the biggest way to make sure using your software feels like a high-quality experience.

2. Style

I’m using style here in the “Chicago Manual of Style” sense, but this is what I really mean: there’s nothing more annoying than being able to tell different parts of your user interface were written by different people. Your tutorial should have the same voice as your help documentation, which should have the same voice as any flavor text that pops up during use. Obviously, this is less of an issue when dealing with very technical language, but if you’re trying to create custom software with a Disney-level cohesiveness to it, everything that your average user is going to see should be written in the same style.

3. Function

One of the biggest things that determines whether or not your custom software feels well-designed isn’t what you put in it - it’s what you leave out. The Microsoft Office suite is a great example of this. Sure, Word gives you some ability to work with data and cells, but imagine how much more confusing the word processor would be if Microsoft had tried to fold all the functionality of Excel into it? By launching your software project with a laser-focus and sticking with it until it ships, you can make sure your final product does everything you need it to and nothing you don’t. 

Knott’s Berry Farm is a fine theme park, and Montazooma’s Revenge is a fun ride (with a horrible name.) And your company can ship some fine custom software without creating a holistic experience for your users. If you want to create a program that feels like it’s on a different level, though, you have to make sure it’s approaching Disney levels of thoughtfulness.

Posted in: Software

Topics: Software Custom Application Development custom software