[Point of VIEW] Blank VI Syndrome, Does It Haunt You?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Today’s post is part of a series exploring areas of focus and innovation for NI software.

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Today’s Featured Author

Jeff Phillips considers LabVIEW as essential to his day as food, water, and oxygen. As senior group manager for LabVIEW product marketing at NI, Jeff focuses on how LabVIEW can meet the changing needs of users. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheLabVIEWLion.





It’s like a bad dream. The kind of dream that reoccurs, never changes, never gets better, just happens over and over again. And there’s nothing that you can do about it. I had a conversation with someone who downloaded the LabVIEW evaluation, but we saw no further engagement from. I asked what prevented that particular individual from continuing.


His answer?


“Well, I’m really just trying to automate this instrument. I gave it a look, but LabVIEW just isn’t for me.”


The words pierced my heart like a perfectly placed knife inserted by the expert hands of Jason Bourne. Not for him? Not for him? He’s doing the EXACT thing that LabVIEW was conceived 30 years ago to do – automate benchtop instruments.


Those words have haunted me since that day. The sad fact is that he was right. LabVIEW has evolved so much as an enabling technology for any engineer to accomplish almost literally anything, it’s no longer highly optimized for any specific task. Within the walls of NI, we call this the “Blank VI Syndrome”. Even a blank PowerPoint slide says “Click to Add Title”. That’s why the investment we’ve been making in in-product learning is so important.


How do you teach someone to use a tool that can do anything?


Well, the answer to that is beautifully simple. You don’t teach them to use the tool. You teach them to accomplish their task using the tool. It might seem subtle, but that subtlety is important. You aren’t taught how to use a pencil. You’re taught how to write with the pencil.


Within the entirety of NI software, and not just LabVIEW, we’re building capabilities that solve a few issues.



Within the walls of NI, we call this the “Blank VI Syndrome”. Even a blank PowerPoint slide says “Click to Add Title”. We're working on fixing this.




There’s a ton of valuable IP, functions, and controls built into LabVIEW. You can find them if you know where to look. But, by definition, new users don’t know where to look. Making these capabilities easily and naturally discoverable is a critical aspect to shortening the learning curve.


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Integrated Guidance


Today, when you’re learning to use LabVIEW, your best resource is the vast expanse of the internet. The internet, where funny cat videos, MEMEs, and bad lip reading can take you away from the task at hand in a moment’s notice. The software product itself needs to be smart enough to help you solve the task. Be both the tool and the teacher.


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Better Starting Points



As LabVIEW has become world-renowned for its unrivaled ability to integrate hardware – any hardware, acquiring data from that hardware is a common starting place. Of course, not everyone has this same starting point. LabVIEW has become popular in design applications as well, where the starting point is typically hardware-agnostic. Regardless, we can take the vast majority of applications and boil the starting points down to a manageable number.


Then, we should just design approachable starting points and flows around those. Right?


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