Why you have to think about how people actually use your product
As you may or may not know, I’m an avid golfer. I haven’t written a lot about golf, but it’s one of my real passions — and I’m finally getting my kids into it. And I’ve finally gotten around to writing this post about a golf product that is poorly designed and gives a great example of what happens when you don’t fully think through how your users will utilize your product. I know this example isn’t relevant to most people — but I think it makes a useful point about effective product design.
My course uses a company called Strackaline to print out a sheet every day that tells you where on each green the hole has been placed. This can be very valuable information. The company has a mobile app that you can use, but that generally slows down the round. Most people simply utilize the one-page pin sheet that the software also produces. Above is an example of one from my course this weekend.
This pin sheet is quite useful and a very effective format for it’s purpose. The basic idea is to have an image of each green with colors representing high and low points, and the pin represented on the image of the green. In addition, there is a number indicating whether the hole is in front of or behind the middle of the green and by how far. The page is laid out with a grid of these images spanning three columns and six rows. This neatly fits all 18 holes and leaves enough space and a proportional area for each image. So far so good. The holes are laid out in a pretty standard format — left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
As logical as that layout may sound, however, it is not well suited to the way people actually use the pin sheets on a course. Let me explain. Most golfers will carry this pin sheet in their back pocket if they are walking. In order to make it fit, you have to fold it. This is generally accomplished by folding it in half — and then into thirds (so you don’t fold it right over the image of the greens in the middle). This leaves us with 6 separate panels — two of which are immediately visible at any time when the sheet is folded.
When you add the hole numbers onto this layout, you can see the issue. Holes that are played sequentially are never on the same panel. So, finding the current hole always involves refolding the paper to expose a different panel. I admit, this is a minor annoyance, but every time I do it I’m annoyed that someone at Strackaline hasn’t thought of a better method yet. A simple improvement would be to move from having the left-to-right flow being primary, to having the top-to-bottom flow being primary, though broken at the middle of the page. That would leave us with each panel housing 3 consecutive holes — and cutting down how often we need to re-fold the paper. It’s a simple change — but it fits the usage pattern of real users much better.
You could also imagine a few other simple improvements, like a dotted line explaining where to fold the sheets (since folding a page into thirds isn’t obvious). I know these are minor quibbles and not really a major issue — but I also think it is a good example of how designing a product with basic intuition does not always match up with how your product gets used in real life — and spending the time to understand real world usage patterns can help you design better products.
And, Strackaline team, if you read this, please feel free to use my suggestions!