users, vision + architects /2

29 July 2006, 00:33

Let’s move on with the next two sections in the article by Don Norman, starting at ‘human‐centred versus activity‐centred…’

‘Successful devices are those that fit gracefully into the requirements of the underlying activity, supporting them in a manner understandable by people.’
Don Norman

‘Does this UI optimally support the activity’ is one of my key criteria when I perform an expert evaluation, or when selecting from different interaction design variants for my clients.

Supporting the activity is the difference between UI that ostensibly makes the functionality available to the user and UI that makes the activity a piece of cake, and the software a true joy to use.

‘only software that supports the activity adds user value, and is worth using’

Hitting the sweet spot where the UI optimally supports the activity is a great development team motivator. On every project I work on, the eyes of all involved start glowing when we have that Zen experience: we got it. You can see the developers calculating how with a little bit of effort they can put together this really cool piece of software.

‘only software that supports the activity adds company value, and is worth developing’

users will adapt

Actually, users suffer in silence, when using software. This leads to the ‘we did not get any complaints’ phenom­enon. There is a backlash from this when it is time to innovate.

Remembering the last time they had to learn how to ‘work around’ the current UI, which does not support their activities, users fight change hand and tooth. Many parts of the software industry are stuck in the dark ages because of this.

The only way to break this loop is to hit the sweet spot. Show people UI that optimally supports their activity and they’ll want it, right now. They will have their Zen moment: this is the best thing since sliced bread.

highly efficient machines

It is the interaction architect who takes the responsibility to lead the development team to the sweet spot. To focus on the activity, take a collection of features, functions and technology and to shape them into a nifty, highly efficient machine that supports the activity.


…stay tuned for the third article, dealing with user testing and ease of use.

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