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Should You Design for the Demo?

Software developers regularly face a dilemma. They need to impress investors and potential customers in order to finance a development project. To do it, they have to design a good demo. It should show that the product will be easy and enjoyable to use.

The problem is that what looks most impressive in the demo might become a difficult UX when real-life users get the product into their hands. There’s a big difference between a scripted demonstration and the way people actually use the application. Developers need to impress their stakeholders and still create a great product. Ideally, these goals shouldn’t conflict, but sometimes they pull in different directions.

Design Demos vs. Real Use

In a product demonstration, everything is set up in advance. Whether it’s an engineer or a salesperson conducting it, they know exactly what they’re going to do. They follow each step as planned, and it all looks very natural.

Real users face a different situation, especially when they’re first using a product. They aren’t completely familiar with it. They might have to try different inputs to get the result they want. Sometimes they’ll take several steps into a sequence before figuring out that they should have done something different at the start.

What’s Needed to Satisfy Users

A good UX design happens only when people can use the software in a way that works for them. A demonstration works well when it matches the way people talk about its subject matter. What has intuitive appeal doesn’t always work well on a device.

For example, people usually describe things by going from the specific to the generic. The given name comes before the family name. The street address comes before the city and state. Having the software accept information in that order is natural, but it’s hard to give hints about the available choices for the next field. If the user gives the city and state first, then auto-completion can choose from streets that exist in that city.

Sometimes the natural order is better. Sometimes efficiency is more important. It depends on how people use the product. GPS applications and mailing list management software have different audiences with different needs. The demo shouldn’t dictate how they use it.

Two Solutions

At the same time, it’s necessary to impress the people with money. Without them, no one will use the product. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to escape having to design just for the demo.

One way is to make the demonstration interactive. Don’t just show the stakeholders what it does, let them use it. That will give them a better chance to appreciate the design decisions that went into it. This approach involves some risk, of course. They might try to do something that doesn’t work yet. On the other hand, a good interactive demonstration will impress them far more than just showing the product.

Another approach is to give the user multiple options. An interaction model that works well in a demo will be a good one for some users, even if not most. An application setting can give them a choice between modes. Users might start out with the more “natural” mode, then realize that the other one lets them be more productive. Not everyone uses the software in the same way.

What Makes a Good Product

The test of a product design is how it works in the hands of users. You have to do what’s necessary to get it to market, but in the end, the stakeholders will be happy only if the users are happy. Paying too much attention just to how it looks under controlled conditions isn’t a formula for long-term success. A great product works well both under demonstration conditions and when normal users are turned loose on it. Contact us to learn more.

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