Feedback on “Soul > Features”

I’ve gotten some feedback on the whole idea that software should have a soul, and I’d like to share it with you.

Daily Email List reader Chris (shared with permission) said:

I’ve always seen it as “relational” … the software has to make a connection to the users either with its other sets of users (or the developer …. it depends). It has to evolve and feel like it to its users…. in my mind, you as the developer care enough (about the relationship) to improve it. But it also takes time either in the beginning (or later but probably earlier) to properly build an experience for the user (e.g. UX) that they just feel less friction. It just feels “right” – like you said about the Notes app (which I know nothing about … not a Mac guy) vs any sort of writing app. MS Word simply sucks at offering a zillion features but making the usability of them such a horrific pain (especially that well-hated “ribbon” concept). 

Chris, from the Email List

I had MS Word in mind when I was writing the email; along with lots of other pieces of software. And Chris’s feedback introduces an interesting thought: at some point, features actively harm the soul (if one is present to begin with). When Microsoft Word came out; it felt like a joke against Wordperfect (which absolutely had a soul), and then after a little bit, it became the best thing around, but then it lost its purpose and became a box filled with every feature you can imagine, and started piling UI on top of UI, until now it’s Frankenstein’s monster from a UX perspective. Chris is spot on.

Jason Karns on twitter also said:

A key aspect that always bothers me when missing: consistency with its environment. Mac apps need to behave like Mac apps. (System shortcuts, text controls, etc) same with websites (which is one reason I hate most SPAs) they have features but they’re posing and have no soul

@jasonkarns, Twitter

And that brings up my dislike of SPAs, but before Jason mentioned them in this context, I hadn’t realized my dislike was directly attached to the fact that SPAs completely disrupt and eschew the power of the web for some semblance of a ‘rich’ experience. SPAs are a thing that acts contrary to itself.

Everyone, everything, even software, has a purpose. Once you get away from that purpose and into the blind alley of adding features to capture market share, or because someone said they wanted it, then you run the very real risk of your software becoming a thing contrary to itself — and just like in humans, that damages its soul.

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