Does User-Friendly Mean “Too Limited?”

By Keith Phillips, Senior Methodologist

I remember when I began my first time full-time job after college, the supervisor who hired me paused and gave me a weird look. There was something she forget to ask me in the interview: “you know how to type, right?” “Yes, I do. I’m not so great with the numbers, but I can manage.” “Good.” She then went on to tell me that she didn’t want me to use my mouse.

Hmmmm, I thought to myself, how would I manage to navigate around the computer without a mouse? That is when she introduced me to MS DOS.  Let me pause the story here to tell you that it was not 1985 as you may have assumed, but rather August of 2002. It was a transitional time for the market research industry. Online sampling had already become popular, but not everyone was completely on board with the methodology.  In any case, the reason why my new boss wanted me to operate my computer without a mouse had to do with my role at the company.  My very first job in market research was in data processing.  I was learning to code in Quantum, which is a data processing software that is still used today.

The thought process was that for me to maneuver from my mouse, back to my keyboard, and back and forth would take time.  Instead, I should “just stick with the keyboard” and code away. Using MS DOS, you can move from folder to folder to access the files you need.  MS DOS proved useful to me in many more ways.  We could create macros that would run with a single word, taking files from one location to another and running existing scripts to create tables.

Although learning this new programming language, (my first) was a challenge, it was worth it.  I learned a lot about data, the market research industry, and programming, all right out of school.  It did take time to learn Quantum.  It certainly wasn’t a user-friendly piece of software.  You needed to be trained and even then, you needed to have experience with it to really become a user. After one year, you will have only scratched the service of what the software can do.  A coding software that was based on C++, it would allow you to do anything you needed to related to data processing.

I eventually left that job for other opportunities, learning more about the industry, questionnaire design, and analysis in other roles I took on over my career.  During my career I tended to notice that the more user friendly a software was, the less flexibility you had to make it perform how you would like it to.  It’s a difficult problem to solve, because you need a software that can do what you need it to, yet, if the software you are designing is too complex, then it’s unlikely to be widely used.

In September, SSI launched a new version of Survey Builder as part of the SSI Suite of software. Survey Builder does a great job of balancing these two competing desires.  It is flexible enough to allow you to do what you want, but it is extremely user-friendly. The software allows you to build complex skip logic quickly and there are built in checks and balances to make sure you don’t make mistakes.  A preview that quickly shows you what the survey look will look like on a PC vs. a mobile screen, is an important feature and really a sign of the times in our industry.  There are many features in the tool that allow you to build a survey faster and better, at the same time, giving you the flexibility to do what you need, and it’s a lot of fun!  Check it out the next time you need to program a survey from scratch.