Monday, January 29, 2007

Usability and human-centered design on 60 Minutes

The Jan 28 episode of 60 Minutes featured a segment called "Get Me The Geeks!" -- on the surface, it documents how the deluge of technology into our daily lives has made us addicted to highly complicated gadgets and products. They're so complicated that we can't set them up by ourselves and can't fix them when they crash, break, or otherwise don't work as they should.

Look a little deeper, though, and you'll see confirmation that increased focus on usability and simplicity in design is necessary now more than ever before -- and that there's no indication that the need is going away any time soon.

Dr. Donald Norman (author of The Design of Everyday Things, an oft-referenced work in our field) is featured prominently in the piece, offering the following insights:
  • ("When people call up geeks to come and fix something or install it, a lot of them seem very apologetic for not being able to do it. Should they be apologetic?" ) "Absolutely not. No, it's not their fault. It's the damned designers of this stuff who have no understanding of real people, everyday people."

  • (on own his inability to install an HDTV) "Someone complained to me, ‘You'd need a degree, an engineering degree from MIT, to work this damn thing,’" Norman says. "Well, I have an engineering degree from MIT. And I couldn't work it."

  • (on a not-too-distant future where appliances run the house) "So what's really gonna happen in 10 years is, all these things are getting smart," says Norman. "The kitchen appliances will talk to each other. Can you imagine, you go to the refrigerator and it says, ‘No. I've been talking to your scale – that's not on your diet?"

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