Friday, September 17, 2010

User Friendly (again).

I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but this whole ‘user friendly’ thing is starting to piss me off.

I’ve spent the past couple of months researching the crap out of audio hardware, and the main thing I kept seeing crop up from users was how complicated everything was, from setting up a mixer to installing a pop filter. (The pop filter one was my favorite. A pop filter is just a mesh screen you put in front of your microphone… and some guy wrote a 500 word review on how crappy his was because the clamp was too small to attach to his desk… 15 seconds of research and a touch of common sense would have told him that that pop filters are designed to clamp onto your mic stand, not a desk. It’s like complaining about a pair of skis because they don’t go very fast on gravel).

But what surprised me was just how angry everyone was. Apparently, regardless of what a product is or what it does, people think they should be able to have total mastery over it the second they take it out of the box, without having to even glance at a quick-start guide, never mind a manual.

Ask yourself: Is it completely wrong of an audio equipment manufacturer to assume that someone buying an $1000 studio-grade mixer should have at least a basic knowledge of how it works?

Take my mixer: I was a little wary of buying it because there were a lot of reviews complaining that connecting it to a computer with the USB interface was overly complicated and the instructions weren’t clear enough . After getting everything set up in under five minutes, it suddenly occurred to me people think glancing at the manual and connecting three labeled and color-coded cables is ‘too complicated’.

I wish I was exaggerating. The USB interface is a box with two sockets for input and output, so you connect your mixer’s output to the interface’s input and vice versa…then connect it to your computer with (hard wired in) USB cable and everything is plug and play.

How is that complicated? What makes this even worse is the manual explains exactly how to do this…and it’s basically a case of putting the a square peg in a square hole.

It just amazes me how much people’s perception of ‘difficult’ has skewed over so short a time.

For example, not too long ago, there was no such thing as a USB port or ‘plug and play’. Something as simple as connecting a printer to a computer meant installing drivers for your specific computer then manually configuring com-ports.

I even remember when installing a PC game meant having to select your exact make and model of sound card and then manually assign IRQ values so it would work. Don’t even get me started on installing and configuring a dial-up modem.

I think the main difference between me and the average user is I have a respect for the complexity of what these devices are actually doing, so I don’t consider it a hardship to get to the level of knowledge I need to make these things work.

It just amazes me that today, people complain that things are difficult when doing something as complex as setting up a secure wireless network between three separate computers with different operating systems so they can talk to each other as well as share a broadband internet connection is a matter of pushing a single button. Worst case, you just follow on screen instructions.

Long story short, when you can’t use a piece of technology because you don’t understand it (especially if you haven’t even cracked the manual) the blame lands squarely at your own feet…not the manufacturer’s.


Evan 08 said...

I don't know man... your post sounds suspiciously like one of my "people these days are too soft" rants.

Just Plain Tired said...

I have to admit to being wary of anything that states it's user friendly. Kind of like buying something that needs assembled and states no tools required. Almost makes me want to run around the neighborhood gathering as many different tools as possible before tackling the job. ;)