Mark Hurst recently posted a quick musing on the beneficial use of deception in product design. While most deception in design is detrimental, done for the cynical purposes of marketing by pumping up a product's image rather than its reality, these cases demonstrate that it can be used for good purposes as well. Read the whole post, because I don't want to steal his thunder; I will, however, say that my favorite item is the placement of a fake bus stop outside the Alzheimer's ward of a nursing home. If patients escape, they're likely to try to catch a bus - and they're easier to find at a fake bus stop that won't take them anywhere!
Right at the beginning of his book Design for the Real World, Victor Papanek lets loose with a stinging indictment of industrial design: "There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only very few of them... In persuading people to buy things they don't need, with money they don't have, in order to impress others that don't care." Yikes... but he's got a point! Consider the fancy-schmancy tea kettle at left. You're sure to pay more for it, but I'll bet it doesn't actually work any better than a cheaper one. Then again, it looks good, which may bring a smile to your face - but as fashion, it'll eventually go out of style. Then it ends up in a landfill while you go out to drop more cash (or credit) on a new one that's less gauche. Just something to think about: whether you're buying a product that'll actually make your life better, easier, or more productive... or something that's just fad and fashion!
Frat parties aren't usually fertile venues for product design, but here's one that seems to have sprung up from beer-watered soil - the Kegstand, a brilliant concept from The Greener Grass, improves the beer-serving experience from start to finish. Some highlights:
-The two-part tub means you only have to lift the keg a foot, but can still surround the whole thing with ice when the top is added.
-Wheels make for easy transit.
-The top lip provides space for new cups, already-poured brews, and even a special spot to display the keg cap, thereby identifying the type of beer being dispensed.
-The whole thing, of course, is cheap, plastic, waterproof, and nearly indestructible - crucial traits for anything to survive a college party!
Party smart, kids!
When it comes to fairness and sharing, kids will push things to the limit - certainly beyond the perception of portion size that's visible to the naked eye. That must have been the motivation behind this cake plate from UpToYouToronto, with a built-in protractor that ensures each wedge can be identical down to the last degree. (Or radian, if your kids are geeky in addition to picky.) Piece'a cake!
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (via Gizmodo) dug up this emailed rant from Bill Gates himself on the poor usability of Microsoft's downloading/updating system back in 2003. It's a quality rant, showing that the man really is familiar with usability design - even if his company's products seem not to be. He complains about the lack of clarity in the default user folders ("C:\Documents and Settings\billg\My Documents\My Pictures" - are they documents or pictures, and why the spaces in all those folder names??), "scary" names of files he's asked to download by the system, required reboots that shouldn't really be required, and the identity-crisis-like problem of a system that should, but doesn't, know what OS it is. It's a long email, but I recommend it. It made me like the guy a little bit more!
From: Bill Gates
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 10:05 AM
To: Jim Allchin
Cc: Chris Jones (WINDOWS); Bharat Shah (NT); Joe Peterson; Will Poole; Brian Valentine; Anoop Gupta (RESEARCH)
Subject: Windows Usability Systematic degradation flame
I am quite disappointed at how Windows Usability has been going backwards and the program management groups don't drive usability issues.
Let me give you my experience from yesterday.
I decided to download (Moviemaker) and buy the Digital Plus pack ... so I went to Microsoft.com. They have a download place so I went there.
The first 5 times I used the site it timed out while trying to bring up the download page. Then after an 8 second delay I got it to come up.
This site is so slow it is unusable.
It wasn't in the top 5 so I expanded the other 45.
These 45 names are totally confusing. These names make stuff like: C:\Documents and Settings\billg\My Documents\My Pictures seem clear.
They are not filtered by the system ... and so many of the things are strange.
I tried scoping to Media stuff. Still no moviemaker. I typed in movie. Nothing. I typed in movie maker. Nothing.
So I gave up and sent mail to Amir saying - where is this Moviemaker download? Does it exist?
So they told me that using the download page to download something was not something they anticipated.
They told me to go to the main page search button and type movie maker (not moviemaker!).
I tried that. The site was pathetically slow but after 6 seconds of waiting up it came.
I thought for sure now I would see a button to just go do the download.
In fact it is more like a puzzle that you get to solve. It told me to go to Windows Update and do a bunch of incantations.
This struck me as completely odd. Why should I have to go somewhere else and do a scan to download moviemaker?
So I went to Windows update. Windows Update decides I need to download a bunch of controls. (Not) just once but multiple times where I get to see weird dialog boxes.
Doesn't Windows update know some key to talk to Windows?
Then I did the scan. This took quite some time and I was told it was critical for me to download 17megs of stuff.
This is after I was told we were doing delta patches to things but instead just to get 6 things that are labeled in the SCARIEST possible way I had to download 17meg.
So I did the download. That part was fast. Then it wanted to do an install. This took 6 minutes and the machine was so slow I couldn't use it for anything else during this time.
What the heck is going on during those 6 minutes? That is crazy. This is after the download was finished.
Then it told me to reboot my machine. Why should I do that? I reboot every night -- why should I reboot at that time?
So I did the reboot because it INSISTED on it. Of course that meant completely getting rid of all my Outlook state.
So I got back up and running and went to Windows Update again. I forgot why I was in Windows Update at all since all I wanted was to get Moviemaker.
So I went back to Microsoft.com and looked at the instructions. I have to click on a folder called WindowsXP. Why should I do that? Windows Update knows I am on Windows XP.
What does it mean to have to click on that folder? So I get a bunch of confusing stuff but sure enough one of them is Moviemaker.
So I do the download. The download is fast but the Install takes many minutes. Amazing how slow this thing is.
At some point I get told I need to go get Windows Media Series 9 to download.
So I decide I will go do that. This time I get dialogs saying things like "Open" or "Save". No guidance in the instructions which to do. I have no clue which to do.
The download is fast and the install takes 7 minutes for this thing.
So now I think I am going to have Moviemaker. I go to my add/remove programs place to make sure it is there.
It is not there.
What is there? The following garbage is there. Microsoft Autoupdate Exclusive test package, Microsoft Autoupdate Reboot test package, Microsoft Autoupdate testpackage1. Microsoft AUtoupdate testpackage2, Microsoft Autoupdate Test package3.
Someone decided to trash the one part of Windows that was usable? The file system is no longer usable. The registry is not usable. This program listing was one sane place but now it is all crapped up.
But that is just the start of the crap. Later I have listed things like Windows XP Hotfix see Q329048 for more information. What is Q329048? Why are these series of patches listed here? Some of the patches just things like Q810655 instead of saying see Q329048 for more information.
What an absolute mess.
Moviemaker is just not there at all.
So I give up on Moviemaker and decide to download the Digital Plus Package.
I get told I need to go enter a bunch of information about myself.
I enter it all in and because it decides I have mistyped something I have to try again. Of course it has cleared out most of what I typed.
I try (typing) the right stuff in 5 times and it just keeps clearing things out for me to type them in again.
So after more than an hour of craziness and making my programs list garbage and being scared and seeing that Microsoft.com is a terrible website I haven't run Moviemaker and I haven't got the plus package.
The lack of attention to usability represented by these experiences blows my mind. I thought we had reached a low with Windows Network places or the messages I get when I try to use 802.11. (don't you just love that root certificate message?)
When I really get to use the stuff I am sure I will have more feedback.
This is the last in the four-part series of use and usability design encountered while honeymooning - and I saved the, uh, "best," for last. Yup, that's a photo of the toilet "sub-room" of the bathroom in our suite - and from the design of it, I think they're counting on more intimacy (or at least familiarity) than should be assumed for many newlyweds. Note that the glass door (1) is non-frosted clear in several areas so that it's not a complete visual barrier, and (2) doesn't seal on any edges to the doorframe, allowing the transmission of, shall we say, olfactory and acoustic elements into the main bathroom. Yes, intimacy and sharing are wonderful - but sometimes you'd rather spare your mate from familiarity with everything you do! In this case: privacy, please!
Next up in the Honeymoon Usability series, the DVD player's remote control. This was a fun one to discover, albeit a little frustrating: see that graceful concave curve on the underside of the remote? Well, if you just imagine the remote sitting a tiny bit further to the right in this photo, the curve slides on the smooth wood top of the bedside table, and the whole remote leaps right off the edge. Combine that with a hard marble floor, and the batteries go flying. The fact that this remote is just dying to jump to its own demise means you have to get the thing squarely on the table without the slightest overhang - a balancing act that's a bit much to ask when you've just returned from an all-inclusive open bar! I'll sacrifice a little industrial-design curviness for a non-suicidal flat-bottomed version any day...
Continuing with usability examples found during my honeymoon at Secrets Capri, I think it's only fair that point out a good design next, and this is definitely one! All rooms at the hotel were equipped with Do-Not-Disturb lights activated from inside the room and displaying outside the room next to the door, rather than the hanging doorknob signs we're all familiar with. Jess and I both found the light system much more convenient: it can be turned on or off in much less time than hanging and removing a sign, there's no worry about a sign falling off the door (they were never designed for horizontal-handle doors, only round knobs), and we don't even have to open the door to activate it. A very, very usable design!
The peculiarities of our honeymoon venue, Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun, offered a few examples of good and bad product design - so while I'm still basking in the memory of perfect beaches and all-inclusive drinks at the swim-up bar, I'll go about addressing those in the next few posts here on Unpressable Buttons. First up, some real, live, actual buttons: the light switches! The photo is one of about 8 panels of light switches in the room, each of which contained three potential switches; the problem is that not all three switches are actually switches! One or two was always a "blank" - a placeholder which didn't even move like a switch. The problem was that blanks were designed to look exactly like real switches - and as you can see, the illusion is remarkable. Case in point, I don't even remember which of the three in this photo is/are the actual switch(es)! Anyway, this may be the work of an industrial designer who wants "cleanliness" from identical rows of switches (and imposters), but it's impossible for the user. I found myself pawing around on these damn things every time trying to find the real switch - and since its placement is inconsistent across the many panels in the room, there's no chance of rote memory picking all that up in a week. The real switch should be screaming out to be used - a different color, a protrusion, something to say "Here I am! Uuuuuse me!" Instead, we've got right here a bad case of -- yes -- unpressable buttons.
Well folks, I'm back! It was a wonderful wedding and honeymoon, which both afforded quite a few usability design observations along the way. However, the only thing I've seen since coming back has been iPhone 3G coverage - and am I somehow "above" all the hype? No, I am not.
So here's an interesting tidbit from MacRumors.com (via Gizmodo): the process that iPhone sales folks are instructed to follow verrrry closely mimics - wait for it - childbirth. The uncanny point of similarity is that, in between purchase and the required in-store activation, the salesperson is instructed to "give them a chance to enjoy the feel of the phone in their hand," and then "ask for the customer to give it back to you." It's just like that first quick cuddle that the new mother is allowed with her child, before the kid's taken back for a thorough cleaning. And hey, why not? The iPhone is, for lack of a better term, an "intimate" product that's meant to be held and which will be an important part of its new owner's life. Without first letting the customer "enjoy the feel" of it, there might be detachment issues, postpartum depression... and I'm only half kidding, here. It's insightful of Apple to have provided this experience for the customer, a very user-friendly one that they can add to their repertoire of user-experience competitive advantages. (And it won't even need to be potty-trained...)