Question for Eli, head of user interface design

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Thu, Mar 12 2015 5:33 PM

What is the best method of letting you know where the user interface is not working well especially those that generate a large number of questions in the forums. When reported as "design bugs" we are simply told that its "by design" not that the design itself will (eventually) be reviewed. When reported as questions, there is no indication that anyone at Faithlife ever sees the post.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Eli Evans (Faithlife) | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 13 2015 10:59 AM

Excellent question, MJ!

Mentioning my name in a forum post works sometimes. Wink

The quickest way to bring an issue to my attention that you may not know is to email me directly: eli at faithlife.com

Or email Bob, and he'll forward it to me: bob at faithlife.com. 

The more email messages I get, the less thoughtful and comprehensive each response will become. I'm only human. Wink But you can guarantee that I saw it.

The fact is, there are a lot of posts that I probably should see that I don't. Some days I wish this forum software had a way to mention someone by name, like Twitter's @username syntax.

Currently I spend about 1-2 hours per week looking at the forums on my own (I have a google search that I run periodically), and others alert me when something looks like it really needs my direct or immediate attention. (For example, a dev saw this post and alerted me.) If you send a feature request to suggest@logos.com, it should make its way to me or someone who knows the designs and plans just as well.

I also scan through the forums looking for threads that have generated multiple pages of discussion, to see if there's anything that I can usefully contribute.

When we go to update a feature, we search the forums (including the suggest forum), we search user voice, and we search our email archives. And we reach out to users (not always those on the forums), too. "By many counselors," and all. It's just the smart thing to do. Does your voice get heard? Yes! Along with a lot of other competing voices.

There are a lot of times that we react to forum posts without making a new post. For example, our issue tracking system has (I reckon) thousands of links to forum posts, so that when a case gets assigned to a designer or developer, they can read the customer's description of the problem and reach out if necessary. And then when the case (in the course of time) is addressed and makes its way to testing, they come back and post the resolution. Many of the "by design" posts come about because someone (myself or another manager or developer) has closed an issue in our issue tracking system.

* * * * *

"By design" is one of my least favorite things to say. I like to tell people around here that "it doesn't work well but it's up to spec" is a scoundrel's excuse. (One I've availed myself of occasionally, to be sure.) The "design" doesn't exist in any real sense; it's just a set of ideas which are always up for debate.

So, the "by design" response is a shorthand way of expressing a few different things:

"By definition." What you want is metaphysically impossible, because X is an X and not a Y. This is closest to the pure meaning of "by design," a proposition that cannot be argued because it's tautological. It just is what it is because I say so. The purist in me wants to believe in this; the pragmatist knows that ontological categories can often be tweaked, in a pinch.

"Impossible to change, barring a miracle." Some things are by design and will not be reviewed any time soon. I don't mean this to be critical, but I often see very earnest requests that we should entirely rearchitect foundational parts of the of the system in order to fix an small but annoying workflow issue. That's only to be expected, because you-all shouldn't have to bother with knowing how the system is architected and built. But sometimes, that matters. Sometimes very small issues have very large ripple effects.

"It's not a bug, it's a feature." It may not be a feature for you, of course, but it may be for someone. Competing virtues are always difficult to sort out.

"You are using this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling." This happens a lot, and sometimes it's great. Today's "abuse" or "misuse" of a feature sometimes leads to tomorrow's innovation. Or sometimes, what you're trying to do with a tool just isn't what the tool is very good at, and never will be. (Reasonable people will differ, of course.)

"Someone in authority wanted it this way, because reasons." Sometimes the devs and testers remember something Bob, Bradley, Phil, or I, or someone else said a few years back and think to themselves, "In 2011, so-and-so said this was intentional, so it's 'by design.' So-and-so is very important and busy, so I won't bother them." This sort of gate-keeping is a workflow optimization that is the basis for getting anything done. The gatekeepers will inevitably sometimes get this wrong. They will sometimes misunderstand the question, mis-remember the design, or (most common) fail to realize that the conditions that prevailed back then are no longer as acutely present. It's also easy to fall into the "important/authoritative/smart people don't change their minds because they got it right the first time" fallacy. It sure would be simpler if that were true, but it's not.

"C'est la vie." Sometimes "the design" isn't the design of the software, but the exigencies of the business that supports it, or the world in which that business exists. To oversimplify: In an ideal world, everyone would have free access to every book, and I wish it were so. However, it's "by design" of the business that you don't, and that design makes it possible for anyone to have any books from Logos, ever. In an ideal world, everyone would have infinite processor speed and storage. You don't, and it's "by design" that we have to balance the one scarcity against the other. To oversimplify some more: Indexing is currently "by design" because the alternatives are either slowing down searches (by design in L3, not by design since L4) or by forcing everyone onto the internet (which is not by design according to many of our customers).

"It's complicated, and a detailed explanation would exhaust us both." Bob has mentioned this on the forums a few times before, but sometimes we do things that seem nonsensical to one customer/scenario/workflow that are absolutely critical to another. Sometimes our future plans constrain our present designs, but the future plans aren't ready to be discussed. Sometimes Microsoft or Apple cause us to do weird things as workarounds for their weird things, but explaining the weirdness isn't always desirable.

"This is the least worst option as far as we know." Sometimes, "the design" is the result of human frailty: a failure of imagination, a break-down in process, a peevish over-generalization of a narrow design principle, a bad idea, or simply running out of time. Sometimes I make design compromises under pressure of deadlines -- again, a workflow optimization that is the basis for ever shipping a product -- that I later regret. Decisions made in the heat of the moment sometimes work out better than the original idea; sometimes not. As I say, designs don't really exist; products do. I always mean well. Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence. Smile I always think I'm making things better with every design decision I make, but it's an educated guess. Sometimes we make a thing, and I have a deep intuitive sense that it probably could be better, but I can't quite put my finger on HOW. Some things seemed like a good idea at the time, and weren't. Some things seemed like a great idea, and were, and still are, and some day won't be. We're always striving to be better, and we always have room to improve.

"Uh ..." Sometimes other users (including MVPs) say something is "by design" because they've heard that from someone here. Other times, I'm pretty sure it's NOT by design, but I can see why someone would think so. Sometimes "the design" is a collection of legends and tall tales that NOBODY knows where they came from. I guess I'm saying to test every spirit. Smile On the other hand, I thank God in all my prayers constantly for the Logos MVPs, who take up a lot of the slack. (Apologies to Paul.)

* * * * *

That's all just to say that "by design" exists on a continuum that ranges from "cast in stone" to "dust in the wind".

Knowing that, when someone dismisses an issue by saying it's "by design," it's perfectly reasonable to respond by requesting a more detailed explanation, by demanding evidence of said design, or by pointing out how the design is poor and could be improved upon. And hope (see above) the right people see it at the right time. If you haven't heard about something in a while, go ahead and re-mention it. We're probably not actively ignoring you, but it may well have slipped through the cracks.

I am often reading and writing on the run. Sometimes we are busy fixing the problems and don't stop to explain the solutions; from my experience, we are better than most companies in this regard.

Peace and love to you all in Christ!

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Eli Evans (Faithlife) | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 13 2015 12:32 PM

(I'm sure that was far more than you were getting at, but I've wanted to write about some of this for a while, and the bug caught me. Feel free to direct people to this post if you think they would profit.)

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 13 2015 12:32 PM

Thank you Eli. This is a post it will be worth directing forum users to for some time.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

Posts 18822
Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 14 2015 1:52 AM

Thank you, Eli. That one was worth adding to the "Logos Speaks" page (which I suppose should be renamed "Faithlife Speaks") on the wiki. That page hasn't been added to in 7 months, and before that nothing for 2 years. So it's nice to have another semi-official description of something important to point people to.

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Eli Evans (Faithlife) | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 16 2015 1:50 PM

I've since set up a Google Alert so that mentioning my name in a public forum should "just work," though it may be a few days before the alert makes it through the internet pipes, through my inbox, and back here.

(Testing: Hey, Eli!)

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