Why the “online office” won’t work for now
Everyone seems to be talking about online office solutions – and how apps like Google Docs and Spreadsheets seem to be going in the right direction. While it is easy to agree that progress is being made, it is hard to ignore some of the problems with the current solutions.
A new mental model
Bringing the desktop experience to the web is a tricky problem. People aren’t used to the web browser as capable of doing dragging and dropping, file management, rich editing text (at a level they would expect from an office solution), or correct printing. In fact, people are used to the simplicity of the point and click, and expect that behavior, and little more, inside the browser.
Changing this mentality is the complex part of the equation. In very recent years, the web has seen such fast evolution that the technology to bring an online office solution to reality actually exists. Improving the experience, however, should be the main focus.
People are accustomed to failure
There’s something about the web that you can’t really explain, but that I’m sure you feel. Like most people, you’re probably used to seeing the web “fail”. Websites go down, pages move places, links are broken, popup windows and ads everywhere are annoying. Being completely honest, the web as an “experience”, well… it kinda sucks.
Thats why only a slight percentage of people understand the concept of rich online experiences – not because everybody else is dumb, but because they’re not afraid of experimenting. Try telling someone used to computers but who doesn’t understand the concept of “Web 2.0″ to drag and drop something to a shopping cart. When you see the “huh?” face, you’ll know what I mean. This is the kind of reaction we need to get rid of.
It’s an exciting time to be a designer
The role of the designer as a “manufacturer” of experiences and user advocate is now (more than ever) of uttermost importance. It is up to the designer to figure out new metaphors for online interactions. Taking the “online office” problem as an example, designers need to come up with systems that allow for real-time preview of documents. Or file management. Or saving, sharing, printing. Designers need to get thinking about how to interconnect these experience bits together and form real solutions.
But I digress
While coming up with solutions for online collaboration is a big part of the puzzle to move people’s work to the web, the key to the future “online office” is not porting desktop metaphors to the browser but coming up with new, meaningful solutions to the problems at hand. Once we get that out of the way, feel free to release any “docs and spreadsheets” solution. Until then, design real experiences.
Ending notes: Here at Webreakstuff, we’re working on tackling these problems on a daily basis. If your company is launching web-based products and you need our product design and user experience expertise to guide your process, get in touch.