Petition for the attention of the (wonderful) Airtable Product Team - Please decouple the Add Field and Add Record buttons from a Table 🙏

Hey there,

I want to first off note that I don’t want this to sound like a complaint. :pray:

I love Airtable, and I have used it now for 3 years across countless large organisations and medium-sized clients. :heart:

I use it for everything I do. But there was always one part of the UX that I always saw stressing users out, and that was the way you can just click and accidentally add a brand new record at the bottom without ever meaning to. The process to create a record was so easy it was overwhelming, because to non-experienced, pressing command + z is often not learned, so they’d see Airtable as a place where it wasn’t safe to click anywhere (A problem later solved, in part for teams, by restricting people’s ability to add records in a base, or just using a sync so nobody can create records), and let’s not even talk about creating a record which is part of a filtered view because that’s just madness squared … But when teaching Airtable, all I’ve ever heard for 3 years now is a lot of “Whoops”…“Didn’t mean to do that”…“Whoops, where did that go?”, “Whoops, how do I?”/… etc etc etc

And even to experienced users, the daily mini-frustrations I, myself, have when accidentally creating a record and having to command + z was one thing I was sure that Airtable would fix sooner or later, so I didn’t let it bug me, and went on my merry way… Loving pretty much everything else about Airtable, creating thousands of accidental records along the way…“Whoops, command+z”

Then August 2020 hit, and they let a team mess around with the record creation flow, causing mayhem among my clients, and colleagues alike, creating, what I think is one of the longest threads on this community yet.

We all had a little moan, a little joke, and I think for the most part they changed the functionality back - even though, it’s still, in my opinion, clunkier than it was before it was messed with.

But then something happened about a month back… Whereby Airtable have given the field creation process the record treatment and made all sides of their app complete and utter minefields. So today, as I created my 10th accidental field of the day, I decided to write a polite petition to ask the UX designer and Product team…nay, BEG them to fix this!

Here’s my suggestion as an alternative:

  1. Keep the Plus signs. They’re nice and clear. Everyone is happy :green_circle:
  2. Please for the love of god stop messing with this empty space - This is important space that doesn’t need to be clickable :red_circle:

and …

  1. If you really, REALLY have to…Why not add a little friendly round button that a user can click on, so that we can all be very comfortable that this behaviour was intentional :large_blue_circle:

It feels like this decision was made to increase field creation, which just seems mad to me. I typically want less fields…Not more! This is the graph of user frustration that I imagine the analytics doesn’t show:

Please say it’s not just me :cry:

As a side note, I’ve actually been building my bases in Google Sheets recently, and my stress levels have been decreasing as a consequence, but it still feels a little like this

And as another side note…Airtable Product team - Sorry for the rant. I rant because I care :crazy_face: … You all rock :metal: !

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Every single time I’m in a client’s base, I need to remove multiple fields and records that were created like this. So no, it’s not just you.

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@andywingrave I completely agree with your post 100%. Everything you said is spot-on.

I also agree with you about my :heart: for Airtable, despite its never-ending & massively increasing list of flaws, bugs, problems, missteps, poor interface decisions, unresponsive team, incomplete features, and half-baked features. (And I haven’t even posted my list of formula bugs yet.)

Airtable is a deeply flawed product, yet the :heart: still remains. Perhaps the :heart: for Airtable is so strong because it is such a fun & whimsical product? We all need more fun & whimsy in our lives. :upside_down_face:

However, I have frustratingly bad news to report. Keeping in alignment with the misguided nature of Airtable, Airtable Technical Support just emailed me back yesterday about the very topics you discuss above, and they told me that the Airtable Product Team has ZERO PLANS to fix any of the things you outlined above.

That’s right… you read that correctly… Airtable has effectively shut down our voices (yet again). In their infinite wisdom, they have now doubled down on these detrimental user interface decisions, and they have apparently been solidified into the product. Apparently, they are 100% committed to this, as they have told me that they have no plans to reverse these decisions.

I’ve been in the database industry for 37 years, and I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I’ve never experienced a product as dysfunctional as Airtable, and I’ve never experienced a team that cares so little about its users. And it feels like it gets worse every day.

Although I have to admit that I’m in this for the long haul just like you are, because:
(a) I still :heart: the whimsical nature of Airtable, and
(b) My thriving & successful consulting business is primarily fueled by all things Airtable-related: Airtable consulting, Airtable development, Airtable training, and Airtable integrations. I also do high-end certified FileMaker development, but the ratio of Airtable to FileMaker inquiries through my website is at least 20:1 (Airtable:FileMaker inquiries).
So I’m not going anywhere. But the product is deeply flawed on many levels.

I just wish that the Airtable team ACTUALLY cared about us, ACTUALLY cared about our voices, and ACTUALLY cared about our user experiences. But they seem to be in their own world over there, and we are in our own world over here. And the two worlds do not coexist. And my guess is that the problems we are experiencing as outsiders are probably the same problems they are facing within their own organization. Can you imagine how dysfunctional the inner workings of their company must be?

I believe that the key problem here is that the Airtable Product Team has probably never attempted to use their own product on a daily basis. It’s the classic case of engineers not eating their own dog food. We see this all the time in the software industry, and my guess is that this is what’s happening here. They seem to have no idea how awful the user experience is (and as evidenced by all the unanswered threads in this community, they do not care). If they were forced to actually use their own product for 2 weeks nonstop, I guarantee you that they would realize the errors of their ways. But they can never understand unless they try to use their own product on a daily basis. They need to eat their own dog food.

Of course, this thread will fall on deaf ears. It’s frustrating to watch them damage so much goodwill. Why would they actively betray their biggest cheerleaders & their biggest evangelists & their biggest fans? I have no idea.

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Lemme’ guess - @andywingrave is from the UK and for those of you unfamiliar with the colloquial use of the term “mad” (i.e., the Queen’s Language, e.g., grammatically correct utterances free of slang), allow me to add an interpretation nuance to accentuate just how “mad” these changes really are. :wink:

Mad as in …

  • Nutty
  • Cooky
  • Crazy
  • Bonkers
  • Dumbassery
  • What the **** were you thinking?
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It’s a joke really. And everytime I post some critique, my posts get flagged and my account is suspended for some days…

Already mentioned their total lack of real interaction with their users to @Aron_Korenblit / @Aron in June 2020:

As mentioned, the lack of interaction with the community, especially on no brainer topics that are going on for years is not ok. Really, it’s not.

Hoping that this message contributes to some awareness.

Apparently, it created ZERO awareness… And yet, every week, we are selling Airtable to companies and have to explain why some simple things are still not possible and no perspective is offered. It’s time someone at Airtable stepped up his/here game.

Edit: meanwhile, there are 49 employees who should/could be active in this community, even big chief @Howie_Liu himself.

image

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@Jason Hey Jason! I’d love someone from the product team to engage with this thread if possible. Would just love some context on these decisions, which make the UI less consistent and as a consequence making Airtable more difficult to use.

Hey @andywingrave, sure thing. Let me check in with our product team and I’ll make sure we continue this discussion.

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Wowza Scott! Don’t hold back, tell us how you REALLY feel :slight_smile:

Hope that was a cleansing experience and Airtable doesn’t fill you with rage every time you approach the keyboard. You don’t paint a pretty picture, which gives me the willys, given my hopes for Airtable at our organization, and your long experience.

As a former tech lead on the other side of the equation though, I’d like to make an observation or two for a few of the other community members (I’m guessing these are no news to you :slight_smile:

Developers want customers to love the products they work on, but developers, senior development architects and team leads are usually neither decision makers or communicators. They can suggest new features and architectural changes but product management, sales, and the bean counters impose the constraints and decide what customer requests are prioritized, which ones are at the bottom of the queue, and which ones are ignored.

Technical support organizations don’t write code and they don’t have much say in setting priorities. The good ones can provide input, but they are farther from the decision-making process than the development group is in my experience. Maybe they DO know what the development team is planning but I’m skeptical.

We don’t know all the resource constraints the Airtable organization faces; if their development budget was cut due to conditions we know nothing of, or if they are hard at work on a major new feature and can’t switch gears right now. We don’t know if their development group experienced a brain drain to another company, or if they are in the process of replacing a key manager with someone more receptive to your concerns.

I don’t mean to exonerate Howie Liu and the Airtable organization from anything; as a newbie I’m just willing to cut them some slack, and I admit I’ve not been an Airtable customer half as long as you have.
I know that the UI has some warts; but the overall ability of the company to make database and spreadsheet features as simple as they are so normal people can actually pick them up, produce useful software, and be happy and passionate about it impresses me.

This approachable DB/spreadsheet mix is something that lots of folks have been striving for since the days of Lotus 1-2-3. I don’t know of anything that played in this space so well between then and Airtable’s release.

Back a decade or two when I worked at Oracle I found our end user app development tools clunky and hard to use and hard to setup. Oracle has a lot of resources but they couldn’t get their forms and other end use development apps even close to the Airtable ease of use. I bought MS Access V1 in the ‘90s the month it came out, love it, and have developed lots of Applications and tools with it, but Airtable gets users started in hours with lots of what an RDBMS provides. It would take months for the same ‘normal’ non-technical person to learn on their own to do that stuff in Access.
I’m mostly ignorant of the Airtable organization. I can be way off the mark here and don’t mind being corrected in my observations; hoping to learn from them.

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I think a lot of long-time contributors here share similar discomfort but I assure you, it is not @ScottWorld’s comments that has created this discomfort. Airtable has done a fine job digging this trench. :wink:

I agree with this assertion. This is almost always the case in companies where product management plays a pivotal role. However, there are vast instances in this forum where product management is simply MIA. There are many cases where users have begged product management to weigh in and weeks later - still crickets. This is not to suggest that they aren’t listening, but they truly aren’t engaging in a broadly perceptible way. Likewise, they aren’t engaging on the axis of road-map, compass heading, or anything that would assist aftermarket resellers and consultants to more efficiently help their paying customers achieve greater success.

On the upside, over the past 18 months or so I have seen a significant pile of evidence they are truly listening and reacting in generally favourable ways to make the product better. That’s the good news.

We have seen instances where it appears that people in support roles are actually building features.

Um actually, since VisiCalc. :wink:

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Thanks @Jason - It’s exhausting if I’m honest - I’m starting to really be concerned about these experiments - Here’s another two changes that have happened in the past few weeks that are just really frustrating, and unnecessary:

Here’s an example of just plain bad UX that’s suddenly made its way into production…Single select = drop-down from right, :white_check_mark: User select = drop down from right :white_check_mark: , multi-select = go figure it out for yourself :confounded:

CleanShot 2021-02-15 at 10.36.00

…When they could have used this absolute beauty

Et3ti4cXAAs1_r1

And here’s another… This is just really frustrating - For some reason it is hypothesised that no matter what cell a user is on, they want their attention to be drawn to an empty checkbox???

Trust me - We don’t - It’s incredibly distacting.

I’m honestly really worried about the direction the UX is being taken. Airtable 3 years ago was this beautiful, functional and eminently usable product, and fast forward 3 years, it’s an absolute minefield with no concept of consistency, or consideration for user.

I need to clarify that this is absolutely NOT a power user issue! I work with new users primarily as a consultant, and they are often the ones to become frustrated at these additions.

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Well stated…

They literally do not care. We are better off talking to a brick wall.

I know you were just pointing out some old interface changes, but remember that tech support told me that they are 100% committed to all the new interface changes, and that they will not be changing them. (I previously mentioned this in some thread somewhere.) They literally don’t care that our clients accidentally create hundreds of new records every day, and they literally don’t care that our clients accidentally create dozens of new fields every day.

Want to see dramatic improvements in Airtable? Require the Airtable engineers to exclusively use their own product (Airtable) every day for a month. I guarantee you that everything will radically improve within 30 days.

But until the Airtable engineers “eat their own dog food“ (that’s a software development phrase), they will never respect their users.

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Are you sorting or filtering on that checkbox field?

I get the impression that Airtable is making these UX/UI decisions based on isolated issues, and not the entire experience. Most of these design changes make one specific thing easier … at the expense of the overall experience when the user is not interested in that specific thing.

Airtable has always had a beautiful looking user interface. As Airtable is trying to improve the usability of the interface, it is going through some growing pains. In some cases it seems like “the cure is worse than the disease.” Hopefully Airtable will discover better cures (UX/UI changes) without these undesirable side effects.

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Actually, it’s not. In the 1970s television advertisements for Alpo dog food, Lorne Greene pointed out that he fed Alpo to his own dogs. Another early origin is from the president of Kal Kan Pet Food, who was said to eat a can of his dog food at shareholders’ meetings. Both of these uses predate the software development market as we know it and literally are founded in the dog food market itself.

But I agree - Airtable engineers should feel good enough about their product to use it invariably to solve data management problems, and I suspect they do, but probably not in stringent ways.

Ha, I love learning about the incredible history of these widely-used phrases! Thank you!

What I meant was that I was not calling Airtable “dog food”, and that it is a commonly-used phrase in the software industry.

To some extent they do this already. Every beta that I’ve signed up for requires signing up through an Airtable form. When I submit details on a marketplace app, I do so through an Airtable form. Usually these forms have at least one value prefilled. Thus, they must be using Airtable for some of their internal processes.

There are reasons why Airtable using its own product internally might not produce the results you desire.

  • Airtable staff using Airtable have access to internal information on how the product works and why they are making the changes. When an Airtable staff member sees a highlighted column, they already know why it is highlighted and it isn’t as distracting. Airtable staff know what actions will create a new record, so they don’t do it when they don’t want to create a new record. Their knowledge of the product means that they simply aren’t as confused by these issues.

  • How Airtable staff uses Airtable internally might not match how your clients use Airtable. If the use cases are different, the users will prioritize different things from the user experience.

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I didn’t sense that you were using dog food as a metaphor for the product itself; purely a figure of speech that appears to have merit.

Extremely important point. I also imagine that they are using it profusely inside Airtable but that their usage is also deeply biased to the point where their own work with the product could be working against them. This was apparent at Microsoft (Access), FoxPro (precursor to Access), dBase IV (Borland), etc. All of these teams grew disconnected as success and adoption rose. They each found ways to eliminate the internal biases to create solutions that reached very high user happiness quotients.

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According to this page, Airtable is looking for a Quantitative User Experience Researcher and a User Experience Researcher.

Here are selected points under both “What you’ll do” headings. I find it an interesting list, both in what they include and what they don’t include. For example, there is no explicit mention of this community in either job posting. Nor is there a mention of interacting with 3rd party consultants or experts.

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Bill, I agree about who’s the source of discomfort; Scott’s just the messenger.

Interesting that you guys are seeing evidence of support pushing features to production.

Yes, VisiCalc was the 1st spreadsheet (God bless Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston), but VisiCalc didn’t include an integrated database. I guess there are probably obscure footnote products that had the two, but it was Lotus’ claim to fame (along with Lotus notes.)

Hooray! They fixed this for fields! Thank you!!!

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