Whether it’s explaining complex drug interactions to the elderly at the pharmacy or nailing down last minute features with a project manager, I have always valued working directly with my end user. I am well aware of how important the user experience (UX) should be, and it’s one of my major focuses when I write software.

But this entry – a rare Sarah on User Experience (SUX) post – is on the user experience before the software is even installed. While reinstalling software on my laptop this weekend, I finally decided to break out the Office 2007 disk. If my experience with trying to get the Office 2007 disk out of its container was any insight to how my experience with the software would be, I wouldn’t even bother installing it.

I’m an engineer by training, and the engineer in me typically likes solving problems and taking things apart. My husband is also an engineer by training, and he knew that something was up since I brought it up to him. If we didn’t turn to the Internet, I know that the container would’ve been demolished. (At this point, I really was considering looking at Google Docs or even going back to Open Office. But I had heard some interesting things about Office 2007 and really wanted to experience it for myself.)

I found this entry on the new packaging over on the Windows Vista Team blog. I’m surprised I haven’t run into this packaging (and these frustrations) before. After reading their blog and the comments, I too have to respond.

Designed to be user-friendly, the new packaging is a small, hard, plastic container that’s designed to protect the software inside for life-long use. It provides a convenient and attractive place for you to permanently store both discs and documentation.

Opening the container didn’t seem intuitive at a first glance. The little red tab sticking from the top was a good clue of where to start, but other than that, nothing seemed too obvious, and this package did not give me any friendly vibes.

These containers are definitely smaller than the old boxes that software used to come in. However, looking at my Office 2000 disks and Office 2003 disks, their CD holders and envelopes are considerably smaller than this plastic container. If getting larger is the new small, then maybe I can get on board with their “small” description. However, I do not see this as small; I see it more as a waste of space. There’s a lot of open space in there for one CD and two small pieces of paper. With other companies going more economical and leaning towards conservation of space, it seems odd to see the opposite trend here.

As for “life-long use”, are they trying to protect the media to last longer than say if they gave the media to a little kid as a play toy? Media in general has its own shelf life, even when taken care of properly. If they want to get into durability of containers to protect the media from outside sources, they may want to talk with Fisher Price or Rubbermaid in creating something a bit more durable and closer to indestructible.

At least they were on target with calling it “attractive”. The container is in line with some of their new technologies (Silverlight? WPF?), in that it looks pretty. But looks will only get it so far. There’s got to be more to UX besides appearance. Users like things that are aesthetically-pleasing, but if it’s functionality is frustrating, then you can bet the end user will be vocal about that.

Sadly enough, my user experience inspired this blog and I haven’t installed the software yet. Here’s hoping that installation experience is better and that the software is a lot less frustrating than its packaging!