Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Glamour Software

Head down and busy trying to make the next deadline, I forgot how much everyone loves screenshots.

I said a lot of bad words about screenshots today, because we've spent so much time building the framework for our latest project, and not as much time (yet!) refining the interface. The main reason we've done this is because web interfaces are comparatively easy to build, once all the hard stuff is done. There are a bunch of well defined standards, like CSS and HTML and script that aid the process. Oh, it will look great when it's finished, no doubt. We've hired some excellent people specifically to make it look great.

But then, marketing and sales guys only want to see screenshots. Not the reams of boring technical documentation.

And you know what, I totally understand why. Screenshots are like the men's magazines of software (only without the articles.) There it is, in all it's naked glory, for you to peruse. Captured in a perfect moment of solving somebody's problems. Check out this one, or this one.

There are a grand total of zero bugs in a screenshot.

It lends itself perfectly to the imagination...

Oh, yeah, and then I'd click that button, and the screen would say :
"Hello there.. How can I help you do your work today? Perhaps you might like to play with my interesting looking control here? I bet you'd like to know what this icon does wouldn't you?"

You don't actually want to see the software. Reality would get in the way. You'd find out that the icon actually does nothing when you click it. That control might turn out to annoy you, it might even throw strange dialogs and ask you to do stuff.

In a way, the illusion is twofold - one, that's the software I want, and two, I know exactly how to use it. In a static, two dimensional world, it doesn't matter. It's like Jerry Seinfeld said about cooking shows on TV :

"..I can'’t smell it. Can'’t eat it. Can'’t taste it. At the end of the show they hold it up to the camera , 'Well here it is. You can'’t have any. Thanks for watching. Goodbye' "

Perhaps this is the same reason that a lot of ISVs use pre-recorded, canned demonstrations. (Then again, maybe they just don't trust their product...)

I guess it's all part of the storytelling. After all, a picture's worth a thousand words...

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