MOAR and MOAR features…

March 15, 2011

I was at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle this week doing a talk. Things went well – the facilities were great: lovely open rooms, great AV equipment, friendly atmosphere. Oh, and the…doors…

I’m very much in “watching people using stuff” mode at the moment – I’m re-reading (after a very long time) Don Norman’s seminal book The Design of Everyday Things so these design considerations are even more at the front of my mind than they normally are.

Throughout the museum are these doors with a label telling people that they’re “power assisted”. 

Lovely. Apart from the fact that neither I – nor the vast majority of the people who I watched approaching these doors – actually knows what this means. Or, probably more likely, we have a sense of what it means – we just don’t quite know what to do with this information. The vast majority of people stood there, expecting the doors to automatically open. Others (me included) looked for a switch. Only a few did what turns out to be the right thing – you push them, and then they open. 

It reminded me of two great quotes from Norman’s book – this first one is a general warning shot at how technology has a tendency to get more and more and more complicated as FEATURES are added…

Technologists are not noted for learning from the errors of the past. They look forward, not behind, so they repeat the same problems over and over again

and then this one which kind of reinforces and expands on this. I like the evolution analogy:

It is very hard to remove features of a newly designed product that had existed in an earlier version. It’s kind of like physical evolution. If a feature is in the genome, and if that feature is not associated with any negativity (i.e., no customers gripe about it), then the feature hangs on for generations.

The lesson: if you’re gonna mess with something as simple as a door, do better at explaining how you’ve messed with it…


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