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January 13, 2004

Usability -- or why I hate Lotus Notes

Catchy title, huh? No, it's not me that hates Lotus Notes, but we'll get to that. Now that the new quarter of school is starting, I'm answering the question of "What class are you taking?" more often. I'm taking User-centered Design this quarter.

Why? That's the next question. Over the past couple of years looking at why people "hate Notes" or "don't like the color of that web site" or requesting the button be moved here while someone else wants it there, it dawned on me that none of these problems that users REALLY complain about are technology issues. The business user rarely says, "We really prefer .Net to Java for making our tasks and processes easier to accomplish."

It is interesting that they have been able to pick out Lotus Notes and SAP as applications they hate. Why? Both are "fat clients" (including SAP's web interface) so the business application is associated with the product. When a hard-to-use application is written in Visual Basic, it's just a hard-to-use Windows application. I've never heard a business user say they hate Visual Basic. When an application with a hard-to-use interface is written in Lotus Notes, it is often the only application a person associates with Lotus Notes and ergo, "I hate Lotus Notes." It usually takes lots of questioning to get to the point of finding out the application is just too hard to use.

Oh, why did I pick on SAP? My only interaction with SAP is using the benefits enrollment once a year and it's horrible. I hate SAP. ;-)

The people that are creating the interface for a Lotus Notes application (me and everyone else I know) are not trained in human-computer interface design or testing. Technical people spend hours on end learning languages and specifications, but spend terribly little time talking to users, watching users and developing a usable interface for the user to interact with their shining application. I've seen too many examples of applications that are created by someone looking at a spec that never have seen or talked to the person that will actually be using the end result of months of hard work.

An interesting observation is web-enabled Domino applications are usually just as bad as the Lotus Notes client applications, but they don't have the splash screen coming up on launch saying it's a Lotus Notes application. Users have a harder time placing the blame on Lotus for a bad interface.

Posted by michael at January 13, 2004 07:56 AM


Hello Michael. Great blog. Remember the old days in the Notes powerhouse Xerox Connect? lol

It's been a long time my friend. I'm in Houston now. Financial company. Hope you are doing well and I enjoy reading your blog.

Loved this one about interfaces and how people "hate Notes".

Have a great week.
Jason Sheats

Posted by: Jason Sheats at January 14, 2004 09:28 PM