App Updates: Less Is More

134/365 - Waiting for it to be over

The astute observation made by Mozilla’s Jono DiCarlo regarding Firefox’s overly ambitious software release cycle may partially explain why Google Chrome has finally jumped ahead in the Web browser popularity game.

The notion Firefox’s software updates occur too frequently and may actually aggravate Mozilla’s loyal user base suggests a somewhat less intrusive method could be explored.

In fact the behaviour of software updates (specifically frequency and duration) is often glossed over in the grand scheme of things but rounds out a critical aspect of an application’s UX footprint. With such a competitive market for digital apps, software offerings now come in every shape, size and flavour. Developers can differentiate their wares by adopting less-invasive approaches to the necessity of updating source code.

But Firefox, no doubt with the best of intentions, isn’t alone in presuming users want regular software updates constantly interrupting the Web browsing experience. Perhaps it’s worth considering past offenders in the overzealous release cycle department. Adobe’s Flash Player and Acrobat Reader come to mind. Apple’s iTunes too, flagrantly demands to be updated on what sometimes feels like a near obsessive–compulsive basis. What gives?

The average user likely doesn’t care much about the seemingly inconsequential bug fixes or obscure back-end optimizations, which usually provoke such release builds in the first place. Rather, the user is largely preoccupied with what’s happening on the surface, what they can see and click (though the surface and the technical underpinnings are inextricably connected).
So when software updates routinely intrude upon one’s workflow and cause delays for no discernible gain, in terms of performance and/or added stability, users invariable begin to question the merit of constantly rewiring things under the hood.

By the same token, visual design and user-interface changes to a digital application, which tend to be more readily apparent (and arguably much more disruptive) on the surface, can be met with equal—if not significantly greater—resistance among end users. Changing iconography, altering the colour palette and other established visual design conventions can seem perfectly justified internally among design/development teams under the premise of following well intentioned “user-centered” design principles, but can be interpreted as arbitrary and superficial tinkering by outside users.

Mozilla’s Jono DiCarlo comes to a rather sobering conclusion on his blog:

“After years of aspiring to improve software usability, I’ve come to the extremely humbling realization that the single best thing most companies could do to improve usability is to stop changing the UI so often! Let it remain stable long enough for us to learn it and get good at it. There’s no UI better than one you already know, and no UI worse than one you thought you knew but now have to relearn.”

In digital application development, as in most design oriented disciplines, the adage less is more seems dutifully relevant here.

Image source: ElvirasDADA