The Form v Function Ratio

By DANIEL ANTION posted 01-30-2013 13:40


My friend, and all-around SharePoint Whiz kid Marc Anderson inspired this blog post with a simple tweet “Form, then function? Or function, then form? Discuss.” My reply: “Recent convert to the idea that function requires form #notEitherOr #UX” I’m not going to report on the status of that discussion (I assume Marc will at some point on his great blog) but I do want to explain my tweet.

Both halves of my tweet are true. I didn’t always believe this, but in today’s high-speed world of technology, you simply cannot get away with offering a version 1.0 of something that offers utility with the promise of a nice user experience in the future. Yes, form and function can and should evolve, but they should hit the street together and move forward in lockstep.

If you roll back the calendar into the early part of this century, you would be able to use the document management system that we built from scratch. It worked well, and it contained some interesting document management features. Let me digress a bit, in the hopes that someone will develop the one feature we were most proud of:

We calculated a hash on each document, so we could demonstrate that the document hadn’t changed since being stored. Since most documents were PDFs, we knew that they would have to be upgraded to more and more recent versions over time. We built a function into the administrative control of the system to “upgrade PDFs.” This operation locked the database, checked the hash of each PDF, upgraded each PDF and calculated a new hash before unlocking the database.

Why don’t we use this system today? Because the above-described feature is about the only really cool thing that we built into the code. When our users started demanding Internet access to their documents, we started looking to buy something better. That’s how we came to own SharePoint. We started out with SharePoint 2003, and we quickly decided that the form-to-function ratio was unacceptable. We showed SharePoint to a few people and told them all “we aren’t actually going to make you use this until 2007” which was fine with them.

Since 2007, we have “built” things on SharePoint that are basic, out-of-the-box Team Site stand-up solutions – they are awful and our users deserve(d) better. For the most part, we have torn those solutions down or remodeled them to include the missing parts. We also have well thought out solutions on SharePoint, and our users still deserve better. That’s why we have added products from companies like SharePointBoost, BA Insight, and HarePoint. That’s also why we provide training, it’s why we hired a person who has a keen interest in user experience and it’s why we are spending more and more time talking to our users before standing up a new site.

I don’t think the form-function ratio should get much more out of balance than say 4:3. If it does, you’re either adding new features that are harder to use than existing features, or you are putting lipstick on the proverbial pig.

#userexperience #design #SharePoint #sharepoint