User friendly dead ends

Stephen was working in the Big Office. Doing his job day in, day out. Just like every other day, several tasks were waiting on his desk when he arrived in the morning. One of them had ‘Urgent’ written all over it. It was from Upper management and it stated: Produce new web service for hairdresser comparisons. Deadline: December 31.
With the new task in his hand, Stephen knocked on the door to Upper management. Like every other day, Upper management sat at his desk staring at his computer.
“This new web service for hairdresser comparisons,” Stephen said waving the errand in front of Higher management without getting any attention. “Can you perhaps be a little more specific?”
He felt tired standing there. Thinking of all the tasks that needed to be dealt with. When was it ever going to end?
“Orders from the top, it has to be implemented this year,” his boss Upper Management mumbled without looking up. And it has to be user-friendly.”
Stephen sighed. Only three months left. He could forget about taking that trip to Mexico over Christmas.
“That’s a bit tight,” he said. “But I’ll do my best and try to find someone who can develop the service. User-friendly.”
He didn’t expect to get an answer from Upper Management since he didn’t ask any questions. This was an order and orders from Upper Management were something Stephen had to deal with every day.

Back in his office he opened Google.  He typed ‘user friendly’ and ‘development’ into the search field. 3.540.000 search results came up. The first one was ‘The User-friendly development agency’.
“Perfect! Now we’re home and dry,” he said happily to himself, relieved that it was so easy to find a match. “Google is really great!”

Stephen met the User-friendly development agency first thing the next day. The agency representative asked him if he could be any more specific about the web service they were about to develop.
“It has to be possible to compare hairdressers. All hairdressers, that is, he said emphasizing ‘all’.”
The agency representative nodded and smiled.
“It has to be launched this year and, most importantly, the service must be user-friendly,” he continued, quoting Upper Management in order to make as few misunderstandings on the way as possible.
“Of course, the agency representative answered. We know all there is to know about user-friendly things.”
Stephen left the meeting with a good feeling inside. This task that seemed so tricky at first, turned out to be quite easy after all.
At the User-friendly development agency the new web service for hairdresser comparison was taking shape. The service made it possible to compare a barber with a stylist, an individual hairdresser with a whole hairdressing franchise. The solution was really awesome!
“So, what do you say, Stephen? Isn’t it beautiful?” said the representative from the User-friendly development agency excitedly about the new web service.
”Well… yes, it looks nice I guess”, Stephen nodded. ”Is it user friendly as well?”
”Absolutely”, the agency assured him. ”It is so damn easy to use, try it out yourself!”
Stephen sat next to the nice lady at the User friendly development agency. She showed him the different steps in the web service and how you were supposed to use it. Stephen clicked through the pages and yes, the buttons were really easy to notice. The pages had lots of information about the new service. He especially liked the comparison of saloon square meters.

On the way back to the office, Stephen visited the travel agency and booked the trip to Mexico. His former worries about not being able to travel at all, was all blown away.
Back at the office, Stephen didn’t even knock at the door of Upper Management.  He went right in convinced Upper Management would love this new service.
“The new web service for hairdresser comparison is here,” he shouted out as he opened the door. “User-friendly as hell!”
Upper Management giggled. He wasn’t alone with his computer today. Karin, his fiancée sat next to him.
Stephen didn’t understand what Upper Management saw in Karin. She had frizzy colorless hair all over her head and half of the face. It was a well-known fact around the office that she went under the name ’the woman in the brushwood’.
Karin looked at Stephen with something that resembled a smile behind all that hair.
“Excellent news!” she said. “You see, I am so goddamn tired of being the woman in the brushwood.”
Stephen turned red all the way down to his shoes. Was she a mindreader too?
“So now since we are about to get married next month, I’ve finally decided to fix this, she continued and pointed at the hairy mess. Even though I am deadly scared of cutting my hair.”
Stephen didn’t understand why she was pointing at her awful hair just after his victorious entrance. Why couldn’t she give him a moment of glory right now?
“Stephen, where should I go then?” she continued. “Which hairdresser does the best and cheapest bridal hairdos? The wedding is depending on you now, Stephen,” she said in an ironic desperate voice.
“I have no idea,” Stephen said trying to make eye contact with her underneath everything. “How would I know where you should go to have a bridal hairdo?”
“But you just entered the room saying there is a new web service for it!” Karin spoke loudly.
Higher Management looked at Stephen for the first time in ages.
“Well…the new web service makes it possible to compare hairdressers, not find the one you need.” Need so badly, he thought to himself.
“But it is really user-friendly,” Stephen continued in a falsetto voice. “For instance, you can easily compare the size of two hair dresser saloons.”
“Why would I want to do that” Karin asked. “I want a nice hairdo to a nice price with clients pleased with their new hairstyle.”
“I can show you how you are supposed to compare, how the service is supposed to be used,” Stephen said.
“How you are supposed to compare?” Karin laughed at him. “Wouldn’t it be better to build a service based on what you need to find instead of how you are supposed to compare things?”
All of a sudden, Upper Management rose from his former inactive mood and came to Stephens rescue.
“Karin, don’t be so stubborn now,” he said with a voice so soft that Stephen had to blink to see if it was the same guy. “You see, we have documentation supporting the fact that the service is user-friendly.”
Exactly! Stephen thought to himself. That was the whole idea of it. If you only understand how it was supposed to be used, it was the simplest thing to use.
Karin sighed.
“Alright then, Stephen, I wish you the best of luck with your ‘user-friendly-if-it’s-used-as-it’s-supposed-to-be-used-web-service’,” she said. “I’ll ask my question at some internet forum instead.”
“That sounds excellent, Karin,” Upper Management said, “surely you´ll get the answer of where to find the best hairdresser for this matter!”
Stephen returned to his desk. Pleased at last. He had been in charge of developing a user-friendly web service for those who want to compare hairdressers. Not for people like Karin who should never have left the brushwood in the first place.

<em>Is Stephen’s user-friendly web service going to be useful? Successful usability isn’t about constructing scenarios for supposed use. It’s about answering the real questions that arise from true user needs. Helping Karin find her way to the best bridal hairdresser and not let her get lost in the brushwood of user-friendly dead ends.</em>