What can we learn from the “I am not a cat!” lawyer video?

February 11, 2021
Cat Lawyer

A hilarious video came out this week of a video deposition streamed via Zoom. One of the lawyers had a filter running on their Zoom settings which made him look like a cat.

Here is the crazy video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGOofzZOyl8

What can we learn from this? (Aside from “Don’t let your kids play with your Zoom settings before any legal proceedings!). What was interesting to me is that the lawyer said he had his assistant trying to adjust the settings to remove the filter. Meanwhile he assured the judge that “I am not a cat!” (Thank you for letting us know!). But this reminds me that we have to make sure the software which we build is extremely user friendly. It may only take a kid a moment to mess up the settings and turn everybody into a cat, but then it takes an adult assistant some time to figure out how to fix the whole mess.

Software should be easy to use. Steve Jobs has said that if software is so complex that it makes you feel dumb, then that is a problem with the software, not with you. If software makes you feel dumb, then it was built wrong. That is a bit of an over-simplification, but it is to make a point. There is much that we can do to make it easier to use software, and too often we don’t give it enough thought.

Now one thing which I love about FileMaker Pro software is that it is relatively easy to use. Over the last 20 years, it has become more complex as additional features and abilities have been added to it. But I still speak with clients every day who have developed their own business software by using Claris’ FileMaker Pro. It is great software.

However, if it is built incorrectly, or it does not take advantage of all the tools to guide the user, then it can become a confusing mess. Most of the time when we are hired to fix existing software, it is because it has become a confusing jumble of layouts, and odd colors, and weird work-arounds to accomplish what should be pretty basic business processes.

So here are a few areas in which we at HighPower Data Solutions focus to improve the FileMaker experience, and make it very user friendly:

  1. Overall design aesthetic – should be visually pleasing
    If it is not enjoyable to look at, people will stop using it. We had an owner contact us, because this person had made their own FileMaker application, but the interfaces were so cluttered and confusing that the staff would not use it.
  2. Clear workflow
    The order in which a business does their work, should be reflected in the application, such as the navigation bar across the top. Don’t alphabetize it; follow the natural workflow.
  3. Consistent color coding
    Pick a color palette before you begin, and use it consistently. The occasional bold color is ok, but don’t overdue it. Lee Strong of one of the FileMaker podcasts has said that many layouts look like someone threw up a box of chiclets all over the screen. Let’s not do that!
  4. Visual and textual clues
    Some developers pride themselves on being subtle, but they don’t take into account the user experience. If the user cannot guess what the cool little icon is supposed to do, then you have failed as a good UX designer. Most people will not click on a button if they don’t know what it will do. Make it clear by adding text, or at least hover tooltips on various layout objects to explain what is going on. No, it is not “obvious”! Help your users out. This isn’t a challenge of the egos to outsmart your users. They need help and guidance to use the software well.
  5. Script messaging which communicates & doesn’t confuse
    How many of us, when working with some piece of software, have seen an error message popup with some esoteric warning like “Error code XJ7”?! Thank you very much for that worthless piece of information. Much better to clearly explain not only what went wrong, which many people do, but also suggest alternatives, such as “To turn off the cat filter, please select this menu item…”
  6. Embedded video guides
    With the ease of use of services like Loom video, we have been increasingly including video links, or entire videos (if they are nice and short, like 60-90 seconds only), to explain certain functions in the software. This helps to very quickly illustrate how to use a certain automated function.
  7. Behind the scenes organization
    Not just users will be accessing the software in the future, but so will other developers after you. So at HighPower Data Solutions, we like to include a lot of commenting in our scripts to help other developers or the owners of the software. You can add many organizational elements to make the software easier to work with such as script commenting, numbering, easy to understand field names, real-world names for tables, etc. All of these help.

You may not have ever been stuck in a cat disguise online for the world to see, but if you have ever worked with hard to use software, the level of frustration is probably very much the same. So let’s use these seven ideas for more user-friendly software, and then everyone will have to go back to watching real cat videos on the web, not lawyers disguised as cats, because your software will be easy to use!

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