church secretary (was Re: Religion advocates)

From: Paul Rohr (
Date: Wed Apr 24 2002 - 04:40:12 EDT

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    At 07:09 PM 4/23/02 +0200, Mike Nordell wrote:
    >Paul Rohr wrote:
    >> OK, so this suggests that the local equivalent of the church secretary
    >> (gosh, what an American concept that is)
    >Probably. I've actually never heard about them in any other context than AW.
    >Perhaps the "original designers" were overely religious? :-)
    >(I have nothing against religions, unless it's the brainwashing kind)

    When designing a UI, it helps to pick a target user to focus on. When we
    set out, we had lots of potential choices that made zero sense:

      - a college professor
      - a linguistics student
      - a programmer from the church of Emacs / vi
      - a technical writer

    We believed all along that those kinds of folks would eventually volunteer
    to be developers, so their itches would get scratched anyhow. (Don't all
    raise your hands at once, folks!)

    It also didn't make sense to target the CIO of a Fortune 100 firm, since
    it'd be a while before we had enough features to wean them off their MSFT
    site licenses.

    So we needed to pick someone who:

      - needed to use a word processor at least weekly,
      - had moderately complex formatting needs,
      - got content from others on a regular basis,
      - used an outdated computer,
      - used whatever word processor they inherited on it,
      - had probably zero formal training, and
      - didn't have a big budget, but
      - might be willing to try something new if it was easy enough.

    Of these, as it turned out, the three most salient factors were:

      1. frequency of regular use,
      2. the outdated word processor that couldn't read newer content, and
      3. not much of a budget to fix the problem.

    While problem #2 is relatively common, the other two really narrowed the
    field quickly. #1 ruled out most of our Moms (frequency was either too high
    or too low), and #3 ruled out all but the stingiest small businesses (if
    problem #2 wasn't worth a few hundred dollars to fix, they probably wouldn't
    fix it at all.)

    However, growing up in a middle-class American suburb, you don't have be
    religious to be familiar with the concept of a church secretary.

    Bingo, we had our target user.


    PS: No, this wasn't our marketing plan. It was our product design plan.
    Right or wrong, we felt confident that a product that met our target user's
    needs would put us well on the way to becoming a product that would meet the
    needs of many many other users too.

    If not, keep filing those RFEs and patches in Bugzilla!

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