Whenever you see something labeled "smart" or "intelligent," be assured that it is actually rather stupid. It is time to for the designers and engineers of this coming automated world and take heed from the lessons learned over the years in the field of Human-Systems Integration, in studies of automation. Lots of excellent scientists working in the research labs of automobile companies know all this. Product people are notorious about ignoring the wisdom of research groups in their same company. We now have very smart devices, stupidly done. I fear the consequences will be a lot worse than waking people up at 4:30 in the morning. Pay attention, engineers: pay attention, designers. Pay attention or people will be killed.
Most recent essays
(In reverse chronological order, most recent first.)
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed changing the labels now required on all foodstuff. The goal is to nudge people to better eating. The good part is that, the FDA has clearly thought about the legibility and clarity of nutritional guidelines. Not only did they decide to make the calorie count more visible, but they made the percentage values more prominent, they reconsidered what information was to be listed, and perhaps most important of all, they changed the definition of "a serving" to what people really eat. What is next? ... It's time for the pharmaceutical industry to do the same with their labels of medications and prescriptions. It's a systems problem. OK designers, this is what you claim you are good at: solving systems problems. Get to work: you could save lives.
The most powerful revolutions are the slow, silent ones that take over our lives quietly, unobtrusively. No media attention, no over-hyped excitement. But one day you look up and, oops, what has happened? Consider the everyday rice cooker. It seems rather dull: a squat box occupying space on the countertop, usually without any grace or sense of style. Yet this unimpressive appearing cooking device now simplifies the lives of tens of millions of owners all over the world. Excerpts from my first "influencer" post on LinkedIn
How can we get the batteries on our smart phones to last the entire day? Make them bigger. Eliminate phone anorexia. The evil is the cult of thinness. Phone Anorexia. Want to make batteries last beyond the day? Make them bigger. it is that simple. Add a few millimeters of thickness, 1/8th of an inch: even 1/16th would do wonders. That's all it would take.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I got tired of light switches that contained a long, one-dimensional linear array of switches mounted on a vertical wall controlling a two-dimensional placement of lights that were placed on a horizontal plane. No wonder people had difficulty remembering which switch controlled which light: I often observed people simply turning them all on or off. Why not arrange the switches in the same spatial configuration as the lights, and then mount the switches on the same spatial plane as the lights. Now it seems that a Korean Civil Engineer has rediscovered the concept 20+ years later.
Theatre is about interaction, about themes and conflicts, goals and approaches to those goals, frustration, success, tension, and then the resolution of those tensions. Theatre is dynamic, changing, always in motion. Our modern technologies with their powerful computers, multiple sensors, communication links and displays are also about interaction, and treating that interaction as Theatre proves to be rich, enlightening and powerful. Real interaction does not take place in the moment, on a fixed, static screen. Real interaction is ongoing over a protracted period. It ebbs and flows, transitions from one state to another. Transitions are as important as states. Up to recently, the only computer systems that acted this way were games. But as students of the theatre have long known, we get the greatest pleasure from our ability to overcome early failures and adversaries. If everything runs perfectly and smoothly with no opportunity to deploy our powers and skills, pleasure is diminished. Human emotion is sensitive to change: starting low and ending high is a far better experience than one that is always high. Is this a cry for deliberate placement of obstacles and confusions? Obviously not, but it is a cry for a look at the temporal dimensions, at engagement, agency, and the rise and fall of dramatic tension. The future of our interactions with technology will build upon the foundations provided by Brenda Laurel in this deep, thought-provoking, and critically important book.
Can wearable devices be helpful? Absolutely. But they can also be horrid. It all depends upon whether we use them to focus and augment our activities or to distract. It is up to us, and up to those who create these new wearable wonders to decide which it is to be.
Great microinteraction design requires understanding the people who use the product, what they are trying to accomplish, and the steps they need to take. it requires understanding the context of those interactions. It is essential to develop empathy with the user, to develop observational skills of users and the knowledge of how to combine different aspects of your product - perhaps the results of different programming teams or even different divisions - into a single, smooth microinteraction? Chapter 1 does a great job of introducing the principles of how to do this. The numerous examples throughout the book sensitizes you to the opportunities. After that it is up to you, to continual observation that leads to discovery of the opportunities. And it is essential not to be blocked, as Apple's developers apparently were, if the solutions require cutting across company organizational structures. After all, doing things right for the user is what great products are all about.
Sloth, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony. What? I'm supposed to design for these traits? As a human-centered designer, I should be repelled by the thought of designing for such a list. What was Chris Nodder thinking? What was his publisher thinking? This is evil, amplified. Although, come to think of it, those seven deadly sins are human traits. Want to know how people really behave? Just read the law books. Start with one of the most famous set of laws of all, the Ten Commandments. Every one of those commandments is about something that people actually did, and then prohibiting it. All laws are intended to stop or otherwise control human behavior. So, if you want to understand real human behavior, just see what the laws try to stop. The list of seven deadly sins provides a nice, tidy statement of fundamental human behavior, fundamental in the sense that from each of the deadly sins, one can derive a large list of less deadly ones.
Embrace failure, avoid failure: these two, apparently contradictory statements are the opening and closing chapter titles of Victor Lombardi's enchanting, insightful book. Embrace, yet avoid, the apparent contradiction being resolved by recognizing that the trick is to learn from other people's failures, the better to be able to avoid them for yourself. The message of the book is summarized by its subtitle: "Lessons from Experience Design Failures."
- All Books
- The Design of Everyday Things, Revised and Expanded Edition
- Living with complexity
- The Design of Future Things
- Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things
- The invisible computer
- Things That Make us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine
- Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles
- The Design of Everyday Things