Published: March 21, 2011

Life after text? Usability and e-discovery

Watching young children with iPads, you see how different the future will be, and even how Steve Jobs could have been compared to Gutenberg for introducing it.  Visual media (videos, music, Angry Birds) can reach a broad base of all ages, languages and literacy levels.  Combined with good usability and mobile accessibility, it can reach the entire world.

Life after Text

I wrote last week about changing business and technology for a post-paper world, but the reality is that we are not just post-Paper, but post-Text.

"People are becoming less text-based altogether," my mother told me the other day. She's an academic librarian, and had heard a talk from speaker Stephen Abram, who says we must become "nextheads" not "textheads," because "the dominance of educated persons who decode and internalize 'text' well is ending."

Software of all kinds is adapting to a less text-based user, and a less-technical business user in many cases.  The rise of "search-based applications" means we've at least surpassed the "Google it" stage of applying technology to our needs.  And we've seen other usability gains through better design and workflow, better search, more accessible charts, visualizations, and dashboards for business users as well.

Instead of "reading the manual," users now expect technology interfaces (and their designers) to "read their minds," anticipate their needs, and even respond to their touch or presence.

E-discovery--new usability for the legal team

This brings me to e-discovery--which is frequently one of those search-based applications.  Attorneys have begun embracing new technology and demanding better usability, seeking e-discovery tools with more "legal-friendly" interfaces.  The goal is more speed in execution, and more legal self-sufficiency without IT's intervention in the process.

But because so many e-discovery tools were re-purposed from IT-focused offerings like archiving or forensic collection, redesigning their interfaces and workflows for business users in a legal context is a nontrivial undertaking for vendors.  And legal users too often get the blame for all this, for being "non-technical" or even "technophobic."

ESG is at work now on our Market Landscape report on Initial Case Assessment, a term attorneys use for analyzing the cost, risk, and merits of a potential case.  Our topic is e-discovery tools and features targeting legal users, particularly General Counsel as part of an in-house process.

We're not post-text, but there are much better dashboards and visualizations emerging, as well as better workflow, integration, and configuration options for setting up projects.  The legal field, once accustomed to paper evidence, shelves of recorded precedent, and the billable hour, is now moving toward low-click usability and project management dashboards.

Admittedly, the "legal-friendliness" of these tools is sometimes still more marketing than reality--note that the legal use case of "Initial Case Assessment" is often different from the Early Case Assessment software marketed to them in the last few years--but things are going in the right direction.

On that note, I realize the hypocrisy of blogging about this without any pictures, and will try to be less of a "texthead" myself in the future.  Change is good!!!!!!


SteveGreen March 21, 2011, 6:13 PM

Wow - thanks so much for this Katey, my head is spinning with wild visions of the future. Very refreshing angle on where ediscovery should be going. By the way, my 16-month-old is amazing on the iPad!

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Katey Wood covers the e-discovery, archiving, content and records management, enterprise search, and text analytics markets. In this role, Katey produces qualitative and quantitative research including economic validations, technology validations, and user surveys regarding legal and IT systems maturity. She also advises users, software vendors, service providers, and financiers on strategic technology and business initiatives.