Lawrence’s first task at his new job would be an easy one. “All you gotta do is carry this across the finish line. It’s practically done already,” Chris the Costly Contractor informed him. Costly Chris was nearing the end of his contract and the company didn’t want to keep paying his jacked-up rates. That’s where Lawrence, the cheaper, full-time alternative to Chris, came in. “But, there are some recent change requests that we need to do. You’ll have the pleasure of talking to Becky about that,” Chris said with a sly grin.
The software was a simple CRM with a PHP front end. It was a straight-forward MVC application with a slew of stored procedures responsible for managing the data. Lawrence’s group worked on the UI layer.
Shepherd, guru, and leader of the UI effort was Becky, the designer. Becky’s background was in graphic design for print, and someone up the management tree had decided that design was design, and appointed her head of the user interface and experience group.
“I’m really proud of the search interface I came up with. You’ll love it,” Becky gushed to Lawrence during their first design meeting. “The results still need some work before they’re as perfect as my design.” Lawrence pulled up the application to find a simple search screen with exactly one field. It returned a single result field- the primary key of the user records. “See, that’s what I don’t like,” Becky said. “We need better information.”
“Like… their names? This is just their database ID, I could show their names. Or put in a link to their details.”
“You can do that?” Becky said. She smacked the conference room table with enthusiasm. “That would be awesome! Get to making that change right away. Get it done before next week.”
Lawrence made the change to the lone search field in all of 3.567 minutes.
A week later, Becky gushed again. “That is so cool!” She was honestly amazed at the simple change, and spent half the meeting puzzling over the “computer geek secrets” that Lawrence used. “This still needs more work, though. Just seeing someone’s name when you search isn’t enough. If I search for Robert Pattinson, I’ll see all of the Robert Pattinson’s in the world, and I’ll have no clue which one is which!”
“So… you want their company information in the search results? Displayed with their name? I can do that.” After further discussion, Lawrence returned to his desk and changed the search to display the contact’s full name, company, phone-number and address. He was sure that Becky would go through the roof with excitement after this round of changes.
Lawrence was wrong. “No, no, no, no, NO! What did you do to it? The screen is way too busy. This is too much junk. Besides, this still shows me too many results. Which is why I have a better idea.” Lawrence clenched his teeth and prepared for what was to come. “Say you do a search for Atlanta. You type Atlanta in the box, and it returns all sorts of Atlanta stuff. Guys from Atlanta, the Atlanta Widget Company, and people named Johnny Atlanta. That’s so confusing. If I want to call the City of Atlanta, I’m stuck paging through results. So what you need to do is only show results based on exactly what I meant to find.”
“On… exactly what you meant to find?”
Lawrence pondered Becky’s bright idea for a long moment. “Well, to do that, we’d need to add multiple search fields, or give the user a way to be more specifi-”
“No! That’s too complicated. This isn’t for computer geeks. If I type in ‘Atlanta’, it should show me the City of Atlanta, if that’s who I wanted to call. If I want Johnny Atlanta, it should show me that!”
“I… but….” Lawrence struggled to come up with an answer. “Unless we somehow magically make the computer psychic, this is impossible. I don’t even know how we’d…”
“Larry, this is not a time for excuses,” Becky said. “Just make this happen. This is 2014, and if we can put a man on Mars, then we can make a search smart enough to give the users what they want. User experience Larry, user experience!”
Lawrence shuffled back to his desk pondering the stupidity of her last statement. Then he spent a week trying to make the search field appear clairvoyant enough to fool Becky into thinking it was reading her mind. He never finished, though, because the entire project was unexpectedly scrapped, the company switched to an off-the-shelf CRM, and Becky went back into print design. Lawrence was gladly reassigned to a different project that had less telepathic requirements.