8 April 2007

Consumer technology: is “ease-of-use” a myth?

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A panel recently discussed the growing problems with product design features vs. the cry for “make it easy to use” and where designers and developers have to address this issue to win back consumers.

Speakers were Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO; BJ Fogg, founder of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab; John Paczkowski, senior editor of AllThingsD.com of the Wall Street Journal; and Tim Plowman of Intel’s Digital Health Group.

The forum, which took place on 4 April, was presented by the MIT Club of Northern California, the Stanford Center for Longevity, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, and SmartSilvers Alliance.

EETimes Online has posted an excellent article about the presentation entitled “Ease-of-use crisis: Designers or ‘feature creeps’?”.

A panel of experts on “ease of use” whose experience ranges from technology design to behavioral psychology agreed rather ruefully Wednesday (April 4) that one of the most complicated challenges in electronic engineering is simplicity.

Their conclusions echoed the irony of one audience member—an attorney with Silicon Valley law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati—who defined “technology” as “something that doesn’t quite work yet.”

Panelist B.J. Fogg, a psychologist who founded Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, summarized the issue by saying that “every possibility you add to an interface increases your likelihood of failure” in the marketplace.

Tim Plowman, a professor who has studied human behavior at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Clara University, addressed the basic issue of convincing designers to devise interfaces that are intuitively accessible to users of all ages and levels of technical sophistication. “It is much, much harder,” he said, “to achieve simplicity in interaction design.”

Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO, a firm that designs user-centered products and services, noted that older users are slower to adapt to electronic device complexity because older users are more complex themselves, with “more things on our minds.” He said, “Among us wrinklies, it’s less likely that we’ll get it right away, unlike younger people.”

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