Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What if.... Ponderings over technology

At work we have a copy machine that you have to sign out of when you are done, by clicking buttons on the Touch screen THREE (3) times.  First, click your name in the upper right corner, then select Log Out from the menu, then a new menu comes up asking: Are you sure you want to Log Out? and then you have to hit yes.   Isn't it amazing that something as simple as logging out is made so convoluted?  They can't blame it on safety. 
     When you drive a car and turn left, nobody stops you and wait for you to confirm once or twice that YES, INDEED, I want to turn left.  Imaging the number of accidents that would happen if you had to confirm every little action while driving a car... and response times would increase as would frustration and road rage.  What a waste of time in front of the printer.

At home we have a printer that stops working as soon as one of the colors is finished, even if there is black ink left and you only want to print in black and white.  It just won't print.  It is on strike until you have bought new, expensive color ink (or photo gloss, or whatever it might be), that you don't need for that particular print job. 
    When you drive a car, and the windshield washer fluid runs dry, the car just doesn't stop working and waiting for you to fill up more of it, regardless of where you are.  That would be inconceivable.

Sometimes when you surf the web and look at stuff, the network gets clogged, or the software slows down, and even sometimes, the program or even the computer just crashes, and you are forced to restart the computer.  
   When you drive a car, it suddenly just doesn't stop randomly or goes at tiny speed because of some outside force field or sluggish connection.  That would be pretty dangerous.

Many times you look around on the web and try to find a good restaurant so you browse their web pages, but when you go to their website you are met by 'the intro' - some awful music, slow things (usually photos) moving across the page, and you have to sit there and waste your time unless you can find the tiny semi-hidden text called 'Skip this intro'.  After that torture and time-waste is over, you can start to look for 1) opening hours, 2) address and directions, and 3) the menu.  You would think those three things are the most important information to get to your potential customers, and that at least 1 and 2 should be listed on the opening page of the home page. Oh no, you often have to guess where it is, maybe under 'Contact Us", or 'About Us', or some other non-direct heading.  And often you have to scroll down because the bottom of the page can't be seen at first sight.  For the menus, those are often under a tab, but many are hidden under headings that are tiny, and on extremely slow-loading pages (including the crashing pdf-format), or just small.
    If you drive a car, it doesn't play unwanted intro music when you start it.  It starts up, then it immediately shows you if anything is wrong with the car on the dashboard (any Check Engine light on? Doors open? No, good!).  All information is right there, ready to check out and react to.  Restaurant web pages are like Lego Men hidden in pizza dough, you can't find them or you find a little piece but you can't see the rest.

Who designs these things?  I thought designers' jobs were to make things that WORK WELL and LOOK GOOD.  The first of those things, i.e. practicality, user-friendliness, and usability is as important as that it looks great.  The funny thing is that often the companies insist that their way of doing things are for our convenience, when in reality these things cause us inconvenience, frustration, or just waste time.  Books never fail to open.  Compasses never run out of batteries. Simplicity and ease-of-use means just that, simplicity. 

Will it take 50-100 years to make the internet, printers, copiers, and computers as user-friendly and reliable as cars?  I hope not.  Of course cars break down at times, but they are far more reliable than most of our other home electronics.  I love things that work and that even if complicated, are easy to use. Don't get me started on the design of remote controls... you would think they get paid by the numbers of buttons they put on them.  How long did it take for cars to enter the phase of user-friendliness?  And maybe cars are now on their way to become less user-friendly again?  I haven't mastered the GPS in PP's car at all, because it is not at all intuitive. 

PS.  OK, you want examples of bad design offenders? Here is one...
Prune Restaurant, New York City   
You have to CLICK to enter their website.  What did they think, that you got to their website by accident and need to confirm with them that you actually want to be there?  And then click on Menu and see if you can see their partial tiny menu in a scrolling window... The prices on the lunch menu are about 4 mm tall on my screen.  That is about half as big as a black pepper corn.  Anybody that can read the ingredients on the Bloody Mary menu online ought to get a free drink, or two. Prune, shape up, and fix your website please...

I think Steve Jobs got it right in this quote:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

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