‘Tool soup’ is a term I first heard while designing for developer experience.
It describes the extensive toolset that developers today rely on to get their work done.
The implication of the phrase is this: no matter how central you think your application is to a user’s life, they likely spend only minutes in it before dealing with something else.
The phrase came to mind recently as I onboarded with a range of systems and applications required for a new role.
As with any large organization, multiple systems and applications are essential to help manage a global workforce. Each has different password requirements, various ways of activating and registering, and a dizzying variety of interfaces.
But tool soup is not exclusive to developers or those in the tech industries.
At work, we leverage multiple tools to communicate and collaborate, to document and produce. At home, we use apps and websites to shop, manage our money, perhaps engage with public services. We all deal our own variety of tool soup, whether as professionals, customers, or consumers.
Usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s ‘Jakob’s law’ from 2000 states: “Users spend most of their time on other sites.”
By this, he means that users will prefer your website to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. So don’t reinvent familiar interactions when all people want is something recognisable to work with.
Here is a second law for our software-saturated and time-poor world: most of your users would rather be doing something else. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but very few.
People will love your product if it allows them to effortlessly achieve mundane tasks. If you are short on context for your product or service, work with these smart defaults: people are trying to get lots of things done in a finite amount of time. They are wading in tool soup.
Assume your users would rather be doing something else. They will thank you for it.