Back to the Drawing Board - Page 5

Early Research

Experts point to the development of the original Palm handheld as a model for doing things correctly. One of the most important steps taken by its inventor, Jeff Hawkins, was what practitioners call "low-fidelity testing." Long before his company ever laid out a circuit board or wrote a line of code, Hawkins carved a block of wood into the shape and size of his proposed device. People carried the block to see if they found it unobtrusive to carry.

For software and Web development, the same sort of low-fidelity testing can vastly improve the product; sometimes a simple sketch on paper will do. And, like the block of wood, it is cheap and few egos will be ruffled — on both sides. "If you have a sketch, people are more likely to tell you to make changes," Hearst said.

Companies and engineers are not the only ones to blame for the problem. Consumers have done their part to make the current mess, Hearst said, because they keep buying badly done products. And that creates a marketplace in which there are few well-executed ones. Cooper calls it "dirty water in the desert" — when youre thirsty, you dont ask a lot of questions about turbidity.

But the dot-com decline and the potential e-commerce market will likely force industry to improve the users experience.

Designers should focus on changing the fundamental way products are created — from whos in charge to when testing is performed to the collaboration among designers, programmers, engineers and marketers. In short, anything but the status quo.

"If you get stuck in the muck of developers developing for developers, you wont get there," 3Coms Fotsch said.