users, vision + architects /1

18 July 2006, 17:52

So let’s get started with the article by Don Norman at the top‐left corner, and work our way through the introduction, up to the musical instruments.

the paradox

Norman starts off by observing a paradox:

  • there is quite a bit of software in this world that, while produced according to human‐centred principles, is complex and confusing;
  • there are lots of tools and objects (not software), that have been made without any human‐centred design methods, but that are used successfully across the globe.

Norman goes on to explain that the latter may be the result from a deep understanding of the activity performed. He then defines activity as the big picture of what people do.

In the final part of this introduction, Don shows—with examples—that it is quite normal for people to adapt to rather artificial systems, simply in order to get things done.

living with the paradox

The 99.9% of functional analysts, GUI developers and multi‐media/web designers out there, who work on projects that involve no human‐centred design at all, may feel vindicated by all this. And by the way, all those projects that ‘ask users how they prefer their GUI’ are part of the 99.9% (an upcoming instalment will cover why).

We all have read the reports about how some of the top‑5 software companies in the world (in revenue) have impressive usability departments, and are adviced by the biggest names in my industry. But I have to say: where did all the effort go? Look at the market‐place indicators:

  • a cottage industry of training companies for this software (official slogan of one: ‘we are the aspirin for the headache of having to use xyz’);
  • project implementers for this software relaying to me their customer’s response: ‘oh please, not xyz’;
  • the wide‐spread reputation among users of this software.

stop smiling

It is my experience that those 99.9% of software/multi‐media/web projects are not achieving the second part of the paradox. Because the ‘deep understanding of the activity’ is missing.

As long as the project team keeps working at the level of features and functionality, it will not understand the activity. It is staying within the relative safety of supplying an addictive commodity (new features) and practising UI as a technical discipline.

Only when when the team can leave this level behind, and use methods to acquire this deep understanding, to get the big picture, then I say: ‘welcome to interaction architecture.’


…stay tuned for the second article, dealing with highly efficient machines.

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