There are undoubtedly some pretty hard to use products about. Computers seem particularly troublesome when it comes to making things easy to use, whether a desktop PC or in the guise of some consumer electronics like a PVR. There might actually be people deliberately designing products that are difficult to use (don’t ever hire me to write software to control lifts because impatient button pressing would definitely be taken in to account… mwahahaha!) but the reality is that it’s tough to make something easy to use. It’s even harder to modify or extend an existing product consistently.
Visual design can actually be a distraction when it comes to making a system easy to use. Pixel perfect placement of a button might make a big difference to the look of a product, but it’s how the button fits with your conceptual model of that product that will dictate how easy it is to use. (The Psychology of Everyday Things has a wonderful description of a set of doors that look great, but are difficult to use. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to get doors right!) User modeling can help by focusing the design on the needs of users, rather than letting the design be dictated by the underlaying technology.
I’ve been having a go at creating a few simple user models since starting my new job and I’m starting to get the hang of it. Luckily help is at hand in the form of a user modeling series on developerWorks:
- Creating a system specification from the user’s point of view
- Building a user model
- Extend UML for user models
Is this the beginning of the end for products that are hard to use?