Why Do Software & Apps Suck?

There are many reasons why we continually pay for software and apps that suck. Perhaps you take the suckiness and pain as the “cost of doing business” and have become conditioned to it. Or you haven’t found something that has all the features you “need” to replace your current bloated application. I’ve also noticed some of you think you’re stuck with what you have, or resist change.

Why Software Sucks

Sucky software has been discussed plenty. Scott Berkun interprets what it means when we say software sucks, and what causes it to suck in his 2005 essay. Some of you may have read The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, or perhaps the highly opinionated and somewhat gleefully egotistic The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper. Both offer perspectives on the importance of design and how it’s been lacking. And although there is talk user experience or UX, not all companies and teams have embraced UX as part and parcel of creating software or web apps.  There are too many executives, and programmers who still treat UX as an afterthought.

You’d think the companies who have been making enterprise software for a while would be making awesome experiences by now. Yet Khoi Vinh, a great writer, wonders if they “get” design. And Jason and David of 37signals express their views on enterprise software as disconnected from its users. Software sucks because it’s still immature, and because investing in user experience is perceived as being expensive. When I say immature,  I mean that software is young in the grand scheme of our evolution. We’ve seen major leaps and bounds in hardware, systems and software development. Yet only 50ish years have passed since the term “software” was first used in print. Information tech as a whole is changing rapidly, and maturing slowly.

Persistence of Bloatware

the featuritis curve

via Creating Passionate Users blog

Generally, I think our extensive all in one solutions are part of the outdated paradigm that needs shifting. We’re mired in complicated software that can do a multitude of features, but none thoroughly well. Take Microsoft Word for example. 90% of the features aren’t used by the average user. (I may have just made that up, but I feel like I’ve read it somewhere.) Even years after Office 2007 has come out, I still find myself unable to break the habit of hitting “Ctrl + Shift + S” to Save As… and then cursing to find out it does something I never use. As a software company matures and tries to appeal and appease its customers, it enters what one blogger refers to as The Featuritis Curve.

Now you have companies like the aforementioned 37Signals, who would rather get a flurry of abuses & complaints from customer for not piling on new features. That’s brave. And it’s the future. Welcome to the world of super niched, super small web apps that do maybe just one thing, but it does that one thing amazingly well.

Next time you’re trying to get out of software pain, don’t go in with the mindset that your next app is going to do everything your current Frankenstein of a software does. Stop getting influenced by companies who compare their offerings with a long table of check marks. Figure out the non-essentials. Let go of bloatware. Opt for 3 separate super awesome web apps that do each function really well to replace your one mammoth. It’s a safe bet to assume that the small and focused apps are being evolved by teams that are equally focused, on that one problem, or one function that you’re using it for.

Adapt & Be Okay With Change

We live in interesting times. The technological impact of the last 25 years can’t truly be understood until it’s studied years later by historians. New tools, new ways of processing and organizing information, and of working are emerging everyday. I mean, just look at how something as simple as our business card has changed in the last 15 years to include email addresses, websites, and now twitter IDs and little social media icons.

If you aren’t evaluating your technological tools and ways of working at least every 4 years (no matter what your initial investment), you might be missing out on some opportunities to make or save money. Personally I evaluate everything I use every 2 years. Some things like cell phones and smart phones are obvious, but take a look at the way you manage your email to the way you write a new contract. There are web apps that are or will radically impact your every day life and work.

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4 Responses to “Why Do Software & Apps Suck?”

  1. Casey McKinnon January 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    Hi Pashmina,

    This is a great article! I worked with Scott indirectly at Microsoft for a few years when he was the UX Trainer for the company… great guy and he was a real inspiration to me, and continues to be.

    Its a tough battle to fight, to keep your software focused on solving one core problem. I think the biggest thing people need to be aware of is what I call the “elastic problem” which is similar to the “elastic user” (as Cooper coined-it). Just when you think you’ve solve “the problem”, then the interpretation of the problem changes ever so slightly to accommodate new use cases. You’ve gotta watch out for those, and not be tempted to go in a million directions.

    Casey McKinnon
    Director of Product Management, FreshBooks

    • Flow Simple January 4, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      Thanks Casey! I appreciate the feedback. Your elastic user comment makes me wonder if that problem keeps coming up because there isn’t enough solutions out there yet. So when a user or a company sees this big piece missing it’s a natural response to want to address it, even if it isn’t part of a core function or focus. Not dissimilar to a new business that says “yes” to every new opportunity initially until it matures.

  2. EasyplanPm May 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    I think the phrase the summarize it all is  “Software sucks because it’s still immature, and because investing in user experience is perceived as being expensive.” A good sports commentator considers his job done if he isn’t noticed too much by the audience when commentating the sport event wihle  still being helpful in assisting and better describing it. That’s what an app should do. Help and assist the user to whatever the work is, without interfering too much. And all this comes from UI. Andrei, founder of Easyplan Project Manager


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