make me think
andrei's latest thought excercise on usability's effect on design.
As an interface designer, I see my goal first to make a product work as efficiently as possible for the repeat, more experienced user, then for the novice and then finally for inexperienced or infrequent users. Many times though, I’m asked to reverse my approach, to make everything obvious so inexperienced users are appeased first. I find myself giving in to that request often, even though I feel it is the incorrect approach to designing products.
The usability culture could be considered equivalent to the fast food and junk food industry, which in satiating people’s desire to eat large amounts of processed, cheap food made in minutes instead of sitting down to the dinner table to eat well prepared meals slowly and with less stress, have contributed to the the obesity crisis occurring in the United States.
Everyone wants something two seconds ago, and most of us in the design field go out of our way to give people what they want.
comments I liked
There are times when you may sacrifice features, for example, for useful simplicity. This could be, based on the audience and goals, ultimately counterproductive.
I really think it’s about balance. Design it to be as easy to use as possible, yet still meet the other goals (business, design, branding, advanced user, maintenance) and you’ll be fine.
Sacrificing the other goals for usability isn’t always the best way to go. So your process should be “reversed” only when the audience and goals warrant that.
The issue with interfaces is the number of choices. Much more than yes/no. This doesn’t mean that thinking needs to “increase” but that the interface has to be better at communicating ALL these decision points—some made by you, some made by the system—back to the user.
When the target user is more clearly defined and the interaction is longer lived then I believe the focus shifts towards learnability leading to efficiency as Ben points out. Photoshop is a good example. When I bought my first scanner it came with a free copy of Photoshop LE. I jumped in and started learning, but getting things done was often slow. Over time I looked more and more for shortcuts, figured out layers and masks and how to combine filters to create certain effects to the point where I can now (having used Photoshop for a while) do the things I need to very quickly and accurately. At the same time, there is scope to learn more because the interface hasn’t been dumbed down for the people who get their first copy of PS for free with a scanner:-) So I say, let me get started and do a few simple things (and build satisfaction) but don’t limit me once I figure out Mode > Grayscale.