I’ve always felt that software had a voice, so I was intrigued reading the Voice of Tango about the effort to write a true dialog for H&R Block’s new tax preparation package “Tango.” This is a heck of a lot more concrete than I had been thinking of, but a fun read.

I always thought of a voice expressed in pixels, buttons, and menu items. Too many options presented at once just makes it hard for people to find anything. As designers, we need to choose what is important and let those actions speak loudest. UI design is editorial. As designers, we are pundits, speech makers, propagandists.

In a recent usability test of a new version of Laszlo Mail, we noticed that people always look at the top of the screen first when they are looking for an action. This led some folks in the audience to argue that pretty much every option that was tested should be moved to the top. We’re resisting that urge and keeping the most frequent actions at the top of the screen. So what if it takes an extra 15 sections to find the new folder button the first time you look at it? You use search every day. You create new folders once a month, and then only if you are one of those obsessive filers, like me… kids these days just keep everyting in their inbox.

Laszlo Mail has a voice. While I’ve influenced and developed that voice, it isn’t my personal voice. It speaks to people who don’t know the difference between a web application and a desktop application… really, why should they care? We’ve never developed actual scripted dialog for that voice, like the folks who created Tango. After reading about their process, now I wonder what would it say?

One thought on “software has a voice

  1. I’ve been thinking about voice as it plays out in the UI, as well. That’s not really my area – I’m the words person at Tango – but I definitely think they play together, and if the UI and the words are out of synch, it’s quite jarring.

    It’s an interesting topic. I like what you’ve said here.

What do you think?