Tuesday, November 06, 2007

User Friendly

The reaction to my last post got me thinking…again.

I want to share and event I experienced in the mid 90’s.

At this time, the internet in my area was still dial-up, and you paid for the phone call whenever you logged on. I was the only member of my extended family with internet access because the rest had decided that they either didn’t need the internet, didn’t understand what it was, or thought it was ‘too techie’ for them.

Bug-bear #1 : People who decide something is too difficult before ever trying.

Anyway, my young cousin had a paper to write on Shakespeare for school. He gave me a call and asked if he could use the internet at my house to do some research. I agreed.

So I sat him down in front of the computer, pulled up Google, and typed in ‘Shakespeare’. As you can probably guess, there were a few hundred thousand results.

“There you go.” I said. “Just look through these links, then click the ones that look like they’ll have the info you need.”

A few minutes later, he turns up downstairs.

“Hey Paulius, you did Shakespeare at school, right?”

“Yes I did.”

“Well…can you tell me what I need to know for this paper?”

Obviously, I asked why he wasn’t using the internet, and his answer floored me.

“There was too much, I don’t wanna go through all those links and read all those pages!”

“You do realize you don’t have to read all of them, don’t you? Just find one that has his biography and use that.”

“But there’s tons of links!”

Basically, he’d decided that actually reading was too much trouble. He somehow expected to sit in front of the computer, click a few times and end up with everything he needed for his paper.

It wasn’t user-friendly enough.

Of course, everyone who remembers having to actually go to a library and flick through a card catalogue will find the idea of a Google search being ‘too much trouble’ absolutely laughable.

This is the prevalent attitude today. I want this to work, I want this to work right now and I want it to require absolutely zero effort on my part…and if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with it.

Don’t get me wrong, if everything could be like that, it would be great. My point is that with some things it’s just not possible.

In my ED glasses review, I went into a lot of detail about how the glasses worked and what the controls did. In reality I can sum up how to work them in a few sentences:

“Press F5 to turn the glasses on. Then press F7 until the game looks 3D. Finally, press F6 until any double images revert back to single, 3D images.”

In fact, I think ‘user friendliness’ held me back a little on these glasses. Like I said in the review, the controls were mislabeled.


Because if they’d called the F7 key “Perspective Offset” and the F6 key the ‘Focal depth’ the average gamer wouldn’t have understood what they did. This would mean Edimensional would have had to write at least half a page on how 3D works and what those controls mean…which in turn means people would be instantly ‘put off’.

In fact, thinking about it, I find the ‘manual’ (one printed page taken up mostly by ‘care and cleaning’) to be incredibly telling. One thing sticks out:

“Keep using the glasses! The more you use them, the more experienced you will become with the controls and find it easier to get good results.”

At least to me, this can be translated as:

“Look, we could tell you what these controls do, but if we do, we’ll have to explain them. If we put it this way, we make it sound almost as easy as it actually is to get good results, but if we explain what the controls actually do, we’re going to take up at least half a page…and when people see that many instructions, they’re likely to give up and not bother. So work it out for yourself because we’d rather you have a little more difficulty using them than you would if you read two paragraphs of instructions, than admit openly that these glasses aren’t totally plug-and-play.”

This seems to be the industry standard today. If you can’t tell the consumer everything they need to know in 5 lines or less, your product isn’t going to sell.

This is a huge problem, and here’s why:

Using ED glasses as an example, we have an amazing technology that, in realistic terms, is easy to use. The learning curve is nice and gentle. Unfortunately, people don’t want a ‘easy’ learning curve, they want zero learning curve.

Because of this, ED glasses remain a very small ‘novelty’ product that doesn’t make much money…and no-one’s going to invest very much time and money in a novelty product.

If more people were willing to put in a little effort, they’d make lots of money and we’d be a huge leap closer to the ‘user friendly, zero learning curve version’.

If you think I’m over-stating things here, just look at the internet and home computers.

Computer networking and the Arpanet (the forerunner to the internet) was first envisioned in 1966. It took almost 40 years to go from an idea to general acceptance…because at first, it was hard.

I’m not suggesting that we should be willing to buy products that require years of study or an advanced degree to use, but you don’t have to know how a hard-drive works in order to save a file.

Spending 30 minutes reading a manual should not be ‘too much effort’ to use any product, and the simple inclusion of a manual shouldn’t count as a black mark against a product.


OzzyC said...

Dude, you got hella mileage out of this topic, didn't you!?

Paulius said...

Why yes...yes I did.

Next post: Mileage and Topics...Friend or Foe?

MC Etcher said...

The average human does seem to think that reading is too much work...

Newspaper writing is specifically formatted to trick readers into thinking it's easy, with just so many words per sentence, just so many words per paragraph, and by keeping it at around a 9th grade level.