The Usability of Everyday Things

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the usability of everyday things

We’re making our users feel stupid and tired.

Over the holiday’s I found myself thinking a lot about the usability of everyday things- I mean physical things. Thinking about the rise of single-serve coffee machines, which are rigid in their simplicity and push button use vs this fabulous beast that reminds me of my laboratory years and is full of options. Explaining word processing features to family members and how to pass photos through several editing apps to be “as good as iphone”(all the options, all the features).. against the resurgence of typewriters, vinyl albums and polaroid cameras. Simplicity.

It’s easy to dismiss this as nostalgia from people who never knew how frustrating the pre-digital age was (and never lost a roll of film when the camera was accidentally opened), but then I read a story about a freelance photographer who’s client posted a negative review and the community called out that “difficult” client.

As an independent, I sympathise with the photographer and commend her for her grace in the situation, but I couldn’t help but feel horrible for the client who kept saying over and over “this is too hard” in relation to getting the digital files. She didn’t know how to install dropbox on her phone, didn’t have an account or want to pick a plan, and wouldn’t know how to make a file into a photograph if she ever did work out how to install it. I think she really just wanted to post the pics to Facebook, reading that thread.

I feel like that’s how design is going now. We’re making products that make non-geeks feel stupid for not knowing how to connect their SLR camera to their iPad and two-factor ID. For not arriving at the correct conclusion on being presented with 50 types of graphs. We’re making our users distracted by continuous notifications for the 80 apps installed alongside our own and making them upset (and therefore distracted for even longer) by ..well, upsetting things on the internet. I can see the allure of offline, single purpose tools.

We don’t MEAN to do this, obviously. We’re just facilitating sharing, openness, and connectivity – whether between people’s opinions or between APIs.

I think if we are more mindful and decisive (ballsy is another word for it) when deciding what features to add and really take the reins on the overall experience we want users to have, instead of trying and cater to as many people and workflows as possible, we can make using digital products simple, distraction free, and pleasant (maybe even great) again.


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