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Words + pictures > words alone


How many appliances are visible in your kitchen? Don't read on until you have your answer.

If you're like most people, you took a mental visual walk through your kitchen, "looking for" appliances. "OK, next to the refrigerator on the right side there's the toaster... next to the coffee maker... the microwave is up there..."

We’re visual creatures.

According to memory expert Kenneth Higbee, “The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is usually applied to the effectiveness of a picture in understanding what was communicated; it may also apply to the effectiveness of a picture in remembering what was communicated.”

One reason for this effect is that visual images are processed in two parts of the brain rather than just one. A pile of evidence supports that people learn more deeply from words with pictures than from words alone (Mayer, 1989b, Mayer and Gallini, 1990; Mayer, Bove, and others, 1996.), and overall, several studies combined have shown a median percentage gain of 89% effectiveness. Pretty dramatic. Some of the theory behind the gain you get when words and pictures are combined is that we use our brains more fully, processing the content more deeply, because we actively connect the words to the pictures. In other words, our brains work to make sense of the combined pictures and text, and that processing leads to more meaningful and memorable learning. That's the theory, anyway.

Perhaps more importantly, our target audience—the Sesame Street-->MTV-->XBox generation—has a highly developed visual sensitivity earlier generations lacked. In his book Digital Game-Based Learning, Marc Prensky claims, “In previous generations, graphics were generally illustrations, accompanying the text and providing elucidation. For today’s Games Generation, the relationship is almost completely reversed: the role of text is to elucidate something that was first experienced as an image.” He goes on to say, “They find it much more natural than their predecessors to begin with visuals and to mix text and graphics in a richly meaningful way.”

And when there are images, the text that goes with the images should be integrated with the pictures. In five different tests, one group was exposed to text placed below the illustration, while the second group was exposed to text placed near the illustration. Although both groups saw identical text and graphics (with the only difference being placement of the text), in all five studies the second group performed better on subsequent tests. When a reader has to keep switching between the graphic and its description, he has to work harder... on the wrong things. There’s only so much mental bandwidth in a reader’s brain, and [broken record and dead-obvious here] that bandwidth should be used for making sense of the actual topic, not for making sense of the way the topic is presented.

Tech/education publishers--pay attention here--the one thing that could make a huge difference is to switch from captions-under-pictures to captions-within-pictures. Yes, I've heard all the arguments for why this is difficult for production. But the potential gain is HUGE.

I've talked about this a lot before, but I've noticed some of my co-authors slipping a little on the graphics so this is a little reminder ; )

One of the main reason my cohorts and I are using graphics is so that the picture in the user's head more closely matches the picture we're trying to convey. If you use words alone, you have to be a damn good writer--much better than I am. Those who write with crystal clarity can describe something complex with a higher chance that the intended meaning makes it into the user's head, but there's still no guarantee -- AND -- using words alone isn't as effective for a lot of topics.

And even seemingly simple ideas can take a lot more time to convey if you don't use pictures. We value our reader's time tremendously, and that's a big part of why we are so graphic-heavy. I look at these two simple graphics and imagine how many paragraphs of words it would take to make sure the user "read" it the same way:



Given the potential for such dramatic gains, my co-authors and I keep wondering why the vast majority of adult technical materials have so few visuals. The arguments I hear are usually misconceptions, and fall into one of these:

1) Adults don't need pictures

2) Adults don't want pictures

3) Only "visual" learners need pictures

4) It takes a lot more work

For many, many, many topics, and many, many, many audiences--these notions are just wrong. Generating graphics can be more work, but you make it up in other ways. When I can generate a two-page spread describing a complicated server process, I just saved myself five or more pages of writing! (And the stress associated with trying to be certain my words describe the story in a way that causes the reader to form an accurate, vivid mental picture.)

All it takes is a little getting used to. I'm always amazed when teachers do eleborate white board drawings, but never put them in their books or articles. Or when engineers can do fabulous napkin drawings to explain things to colleagues, but never put them in their books or articles.

The one thing that makes a big difference for me in being able to create pictures: my wacom. I'd give up my iPod before my tablet. There, I said it.

(Of course, I have an emergency backup iPod)

Posted by Kathy on October 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Can using a Mac raise your IQ?

Yes, I'm exaggerating. But it's fun to see some evidence for what many of us have known all along ; )

Posted by Kathy on October 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

How to spend your marketing and ad budget

I've worked for companies that spent their entire ad and marketing budget on making their existing users deliriously happy. Let's say your marketing and/or ad budget doesn't have the same legs it used to, or that you've just decided to make a change. Or maybe you don't even have a marketing budget. Is there something you can do that might be more creative and, in many cases today, at least--if not more--effective?

These are off the top of my head and my usual disclaimers apply (doesn't work for everything, etc.), and I hope others will add better ideas.


The Sarah McLachlan music video for World on Fire puts a different spin on alternative uses for promotional budgets—they took nearly all of the $150,000 production budget for the music video and spent it on other things. I'm sure you've all seen it by now, but here are a few sample screens that come on (in between a few home-movie quality shots of Sarah playing her guitar):




Bonus: by putting the information into the video, they're also teaching fans/users the true costs of both the production of the video and things like the cost of educating a girl in Afghanistan.

Most of my suggestions aren't nearly as "worthy" as what they did with the World On Fire budget, but to a real user... having a better experience using the product or better yet--getting to the kick ass threshold more quickly--is still a pretty damn worthy cause.

And hey -- if you can help them get laid (by creating/supporting user groups and online communities where people often find meaningful and lasting relationships), then you've got something more powerful than all the "twins" ads money can buy. ; )

Please, add your ideas.

[Relevant links: Heifer International, World Changing, and Gaping Void)]

Posted by Kathy on October 29, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

If you could change only one thing...

A manager at Sun asked me this question in a recent con call: "If you could change only one thing about our courses, what would make the biggest difference?" That's just cruel. One?

My answer was, "cut the content in half but keep the course duration the same."

In that spirit, I tried to force myself to come up with more "someone is holding a gun to your head and telling you to pick just one thing to make a difference" answers. By definition, these don't apply to everything, lots of exceptions, all disclaimers apply. etc. More importantly, I'm not an expert at all of these things, so I'd love to hear what others come up with as an answer to the same question for some of these topics (wisdom of crowds and all that).

One thing that could make a big difference

Non-fiction writing: write conversationally

Blogs: reduce talking about yourself by 80% (make up the difference with things that benefit the reader)

Classroom teaching: reduce lecture by 50% (make up the difference in listening with interaction and doing

Tech books and articles for learning: reduce lecture by 50%, make up the difference with graphics, case-studies and examples, interactive exericses, thought-provoking puzzles, FAQs, etc.

Paragraphs: vary your sentence length (related to pacing)

Stories: think seduction

Photographs: use aperture-priority (unless you're shooting water and want that fuzzy flowy water thing)

Photographic composition: use the rule of thirds

Digital video: (applies to photography as well) pay attention to nose room

Nose room:

Not enough nose room:

Video and photographic composition of people: don't crop/cut people off at joints unless you're going for that edgy "dismemberment effect"...

Bad Crop:

A little better Crop:

Graphic design: reduce trapped white space (note: do as I say, not as I do here... I SUCK at HTML)

Typography: one word--kerning

(Notice how the "o" tucks under the "V" in the bottom example... that's good kerning. Even in our 700 page books, I still go through and kern by hand where I need to, when the software doesn't do a good enough job.)

Marketing: Stop talking about how much you/the company/the product/the project kicks ass. Use your marketing budget to help your users kick ass.



Product design: be brave


Brainstorming: use mind maps
(Brady did this map of my ETech talk, on a tablet PC using Mind Manager)

Creativity: ban the devil's advocate (bring him in LATER)

Stress reduction: GTD

Running a user-friendly company: make sure *everyone* in the company is exposed to real users as often as possible (not *prospective* users--REAL ones), and that everyone is rewarded (or suffers) based on the user's perception. If possible, give almost every new employee a stint at either a customer service or tech support role. (Even better to do this with non-new employees from time to time)

Happiness: Reduce caring about other people's expectations by 85% (closely related to: don't take things personally), with the exception of users (increase caring about user expectations by 85%)

OK, your turn. I want to hear your "pick one thing" answers, and it can be on any helpful topic -- not just the ones I have here.

Posted by Kathy on October 27, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Attenuation and the suck threshold


How long do your users spend in the "I suck" (or "this product sucks") zone? Once they've crossed the suck threshold, how long does it take before they start to feel like they kick ass? Both of those thresholds are key milestones on a users path to passion, and it's often the case that he-who-gets-his-users-there-first wins.

Our O'Reilly editor Mike Loukides says our goal -- whether it's for product design or writing a tech book -- should be to focus on answering this question:

What is the minimum threshold at which the user can be creative?

Followed by:

Do whatever it takes to help them get there quickly.

And by "creative", he doesn't mean "be artistic". He means, "be able to apply the tool or knowledge or skill to do something useful or fun that they find meaningful or interesting." A long learning curve before true mastery is achieved is not the problem. The real problem is when there's a long learning curve just to get past the "I suck" (or, "this product sucks") zone, and a long curve before crossing the "Hey, I'm actually starting to kick ass at this!" threshold.

For most of us, our user wants to use our tools (software, books, sermons, screwdrivers, saddle, music) to do something else (collaborate electronically, learn, find inspiration, build a deck, ride a horse, dance). So we try to think about the thing they want to do, and how quickly we can get them through those two thresholds:

1) The suck threshold
The point at which they stop hating you (your company), the activity itself, or their complete inability to do anything useful.

2) The passion threshold
The point at which they start feeling like they kick ass. While passion is not a guarantee at this point, the chances of someone becoming passionate before this are slim.

And it's not always about the product--sometimes it's all about framing, documentation, and learning. It's about [straps self into buzzword appreciation chair] attenuation. Turning down the gain. Narrowing. Focusing.

Or as O'Reilly's Rael Dornfest puts it:

"...bandwidth continues to broaden, cycles are going spare, storage grows ever larger and cheaper, and content keeps pouring from the fire hose. No longer constrained by any virtual limits, we're feeling the effects of this flood of digital assets."

It's no longer about generating digital data--we have more than enough already. The challenge is now: How do we visualize the data, filter it, remix it, and access it in ways meaningful to us?

In many subtle and not-so-subtle ways we're seeing user experience and design returning to software.

What developments in UI and HCI design promise to empower users rather than confuse and overwhelm them?"

There are so many opportunities. Raise your hand if you've been feeling overwhelmed with the pressure to keep up. Nod knowingly if you've ever said or thought anything like:

"They released a new rev again? Oh. Great. I guess I know how I'm spending my next few weekends..."

"Is there NO FRICKIN' LIMIT to what they'll add to these APIs?"

"Don't you DARE throw out that stack of journals, magazine articles, web printouts, partly-read books, and blogs. I really am going to get to them."

"All I did was take a single wifi-free week's vacation, and now I have 19,343 emails and at least 600 posts in my RSS reader I have to catch up on..."

"Why oh why didn't I become a plumber? Not scalable, sure, but also not outsourceable. And the domain knowledge is fairly stable... unlike my CS degree... [begins to laugh hysterically and inappropriately]".

"I realize this product went through beta, but seriously, did they watch any real humans to try to use this interface?"

Yes, there are so many opportunities. Anyone who can help attentuate the firehose in some way is a hero to those who are drowning.

And we can do it in so many different ways.

We can do it with "less is less" products (championed valiantly by the 37 Signals folks).

We can do it with better tutorials, reference materials, and learning experiences.

We can do it with better design.

We can do it with filters. Or maybe lenses.

Remember, this is not about how long it takes to truly become an expert. In fact, where there is real passion there is always continuous learning and challenges in whatever it is the person is passionate about whether it's conversational Klingon or digital video editing or snowboarding or meditation or being a wine snob/expert. This is not about dumbing down to give users a nice (albeit false) sense of self-esteem. This is about getting them to where they can actually do something.

Here are a few possibilities, but of course it depends greatly on the context of the tool (including expertise and expectations of the user):

1) Consider making different user profiles within the product itself, and allowing the user to choose a configuration for the interface that matches the user's goal and current level of skill and knowledge. Yes, that could mean having things like "advanced modes", and while that's a somewhat controversial usability practice, it definitely has a place, and can be done brilliantly for many (not all) products. But yes, it's about attenuating what a particular user is exposed to in the interface -- not hiding capabilities from them without their knowledge.

2) If you can't change the product, change the documentation. I've been working on and off on an intro to movie-making book to teach Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro to mortals. The Final Cut interface is beyond overwhelming:

We could spend the first three chapters describing what each component of the interface is for. But that just keeps them in the suck zone longer, produces cognitive overload, and completely violates the "give them the minimum needed to start being creative." In other words, trying to explain the Final Cut interface only delays their ability to start doing the cool thing--editing video!

But we can attenuate the interface by postponing the "here's what every single one of the 230 things in the interface does..." (and that's just the part of the interface you can see...) and instead focus their attention just on the six or less things they need to get in there and start editing video.


3) Use a spiral user experience model:


4) Create context-dependent FAQs and/or context-dependent "FDTs" (Frequently Done Things). At any given point in the use of a tool, what the user is most likely to do next is rarely random. By having some kind of reference or learning or embedded help that focuses on those can be a big help. Too many reference or training materials are organized by topic, when the user often has no idea what the topic IS. They want to do something, but they have no idea which part of the interface they're supposed to be looking up in the help file, because they don't know what comes next...

5) In training materials for the product, focus on getting the user doing something cool as early as possible! Don't bog them down with tons of theory before letting them apply what they've learned in some meaningful, interesting, and/or useful way. I've seen Java instructors make their students wait---forever before they students can actually write code, because the instructor believed they shouldn't be constructing code until they have a complete understanding.

That's not how humans work, and no, this is not a matter of "learning preferences" either. There may be some people who believe they are more comfortable learning the theory first, but that doesn't make it better learning -- even for those who believe they prefer it.
God knows that if we had to understand physics before we could ever start to walk... most of us would still not be walking.

6) Make sure there's a way for the user to know when they've crossed the thresholds. Sometimes the user is capable of doing more than they realize. Find a way to prove to them that they really can kick ass (or at least that they no longer suck). This must not be faked! This must be real, and again--not some attempt to dumb it down to make the user feel good. It may be that the user is doing something meaningful, that applies directly to what they really want to do, but the materials/instructor/app haven't made it clear enough how this seemingly simple thing relates or bridges to something that matters.

So remember...

The "time to stop sucking" and "time to first kick-ass" quotients are among the biggest advantages we have in a world where the competition is both fierce and plentiful. (And that's both market competition as well as competition for our scarce and precious brain/cognitive/attention bandwidth.) More importantly, it's a way in which we can make a positive impact on the lives of users.

And for more motivation, don't forget to read Information Anxiety.

Now where the hell did I put my GTD next action list...

Posted by Kathy on October 25, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

This blog is under Creative Commons

I don't know why it took me so long, but I finally got around to making it official:
Attribution-Non-commercial-Sharealike is the license for the content of this blog.

I keep getting emails with requests to use a graphic in a presentation or whatever... and the answer is always "yes", so, now you don't have to ask unless it falls outside this Creative Commons license or plain old fair use (or common sense).

So please, DO stuff with anything you find here that is my original work (which is about 98%; the rest being a few things I grab from the web, but I'll be more careful about that and make it explicit).

This license means you can use this in any non-commercial way as-is, OR use it build something new, as long as the new thing you build contains an identical license to the one I have here. The license (and I) request that you do provide attribution, somehow. I'm not picky about how. Mention me, or the blog, doesn't matter which. Doesn't matter if it's in really tiny type, either. Use your own discretion (just don't forget about karma... ; )

If you intend to sell anything in some way, that's either the original or derivative, then you need to ask me. Otherwise, have at it. I am delighted to see the way people use some of this, though, so I appreciate it greatly when someone lets me know about it. But there's no requirement.

And FYI -- if you do anything with a photograph of me that makes me look dorkier than I already am, there will be payback. And I know Photoshop.

[Update: someone wasted no time remixing the content here-- I have no idea how he does it, but this automated mashup of a bunch of my blog entries is pretty amazing. It produced quite a few new sentences that actually make sense (sort of) including:

I am delighted to see Microsoft as something other than a dry, lifeless text or lecture.

His hugely successful, multi-million dollar organization almost entirely through the efforts of a three-day-book-jam with Bert, Eric, and Beth –

hugh macleod, on the TV at any time.

Virtually any of your friends with children will be stuck in the blanks.

The typical user is just…weird and wrong.

Your brain has no idea you live in the parade.

...but at some level, your brain had a higher incidence of PTSD than those who pushed products without a conscience.

They grabbed defeat from the road tour?

So the horse calms himself down because you gave him something new to Paul Graham,

then everything good will be devil’s advocates, naysayers, and viscious critics every step of the Daily Show.

But still… maybe instead of struggling with a reference or learning (knowledge and understanding), while letting go of the iPod...

He's done it to other blogs as well...]

Posted by Kathy on October 22, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The Concept Carification effect


In the cover story in this week's Time magazine, Steve Jobs talks about "How Apple Does It." One of my favorite parts was this:

"Here's what you see at a lot of companies; you know how you see a show car and it's really cool, and then four years later you see the production car, and it sucks? And you go, What happened? They had it! They had it in the palm of their hands! They grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory!
"What happened was, the designers came up with this really great idea. Then they take it to the engineers, and the engineers go, 'Nah, we can't do that. That's impossible,' And so it gets a lot worse. Then they take it to the manufacturing people, and they go, 'We can't build that!' And it gets a lot worse."

Those car pictures show the before and after of the Chrysler "Turboflite" concept car. It's rather obvious that the "after" car, from 1965, looks nothing like the 1961 concept car. What happened?

And the same thing happens everywhere. There is a major computer book publisher (not O'Reilly, as will be obvious), where this guy (author/editor) had a wonderful concept for a new kind of computer book. Not like Head First, but every bit as unique and engaging. He had a vision, a manifesto even (I don't want to link to it or mention his name because I don't want to get anyone in trouble here). Authors were excited, people were on board, and the first book began production. You know how the story turns out, since it's the same story that plays out all too often... the very thing Jobs described. The production people started saying, "Oh, we can't do THAT..." and the resistance piled up until the book was released looking virtually like every other book, save a few fonts and a very weak theme. The guy with the original vision was disheartened. One of the other original champions of the project left the company, partly as a result of watching this concept have the life and sharp edges sucked out of it.

One of the things we loved about O'Reilly is that they said, "Yes, do it ALL." The Head First format is virtually identical to the concept Bert and I built in the original proposal. No edges were smoothed. Nobody said "we can't do that."

Obviously there are a zillion reasons why wild-ass concepts can't (and shouldn't) find their way into final production, but how many of those reasons are truly valid? When people say, "We can't afford to do it that way..." we should always ask, "Can't... or Don't Want To?" followed by, "Can we afford not to?"

If being remarkable is one of the only ways we can hope to compete in a world where everything has a ton of competition...

Of course, the article goes on to talk about how Bill Gates has "kicked the bits" out of Apple, proving that there IS another way, and that this way can be more successful. Which leads to my REAL favorite part of the article:

"Jobs doesn't care just about winning. He's willing to lose... He's just not willing to be lame, and that may, increasingly, be the winning approach."

We have to keep fighting the Concept Carification effect, to keep at least some of our ideas alive, sharp edges intact. This is not an easy battle, since it involves separating the crap ideas from the brilliant concepts, with NO evidence. After all, most revolutionary concepts do NOT come directly from what users ask for. That's where we need to have faith. Yes, there are a ton of crap things out there that should've stayed in the concept stage, but if that's the price to pay for a world in which not everything is morphed into a nice safe incremental release, it's so worth it.

So have faith. When you're really really on to something magical, you can guarantee there will be devil's advocates, naysayers, and viscious critics every step of the way. Yes, sometimes those critics will be right, but if we aren't brave enough to fight through it when nobody knows for certain, then everything good will be stuck in the concept stage, and we'll be left with... all of the boring, undifferentiated, or lame products we have now.

Posted by Kathy on October 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Anti-TV follow-up

I just wanted to publicly thank everyone for their great comments about this -- as I said, this is an extremely important "cause" for me. In a much earlier post, I mentioned how when I want to freak myself out, I go out for a stroll through the neighborhood at night and count the number of houses that have that flickering blue glow coming from the windows. If one were prone to brainswashing conspiracies... ; )

But this guy said it better than I did in his post "Brutally Murder Your TV in Cold Blood Just to Watch It Die."

[Update: Dawn issues a No TV for One Week challenge on the Frugal for Life blog]

Robyn (and others) keep us posted on your attempts to change how television plays out in your household, or on your experiences trying to convince others to do the same.

Posted by Kathy on October 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Encouraging passionate readers

This rules:
Anybody want an autographed copy of Freakonomics?

Be sure to read the comments...

Could you ever have imagined an econ book with fans who write things like:

"thanks for being who you are and for humoring those of us who "hero worship" ya'all!"

I got the audio version of the book from iTunes and loved it.

[Thanks to Dru Sellers for the link]

Posted by Kathy on October 19, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Making happy users


"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard." If designers followed that one clear principle, there'd be a lot more happy users. I'd get a lot more work done instead of struggling with a counterintuitive interface. Writing software would be easier because APIs would simply make sense, with less chance of blowing up at runtime. I could use my car stereo.

That mantra is one I hear every day, from my horse training coach, as the foundation for "natural horsemanship" principles. But I can think of a certain programming language and certain software and hardware vendors that could stand to spend some time hearing my trainer repeat that over and over and over...

Notice that the chart does NOT say, "Make the EASY things easy." It says, "Make the RIGHT things easy." And those things might indeed be quite complex. "I Rule" experiences don't come from doing brainless trivial tasks. (But you can certainly have an "I Suck" experience when trivial tasks are made hard.)

The goal is to make it easy for the user to do the thing he really wants to do, while simultaneously making it difficult or impossible to screw things up. Every screw up, road block, confusion takes the user out of the flow state. It stops him from the thing he cares about, which is NOT how to use whatever tool, device, software it takes to do it.

Yes, I know this goal is dead obvious and "duh." But why are we drowning in products that seem to be made by those who have forgotten this? Or at the least, by those who were unable to do it...

Some examples of "make the right things easy and the wrong things hard" are:

1) A strongly-typed language that stops you from assigning a String of characters (like, "cheese") to a variable that you said was supposed to hold a number (like 42). Or a language like Java with an "exception" mechanism that forces you to acknowledge that bad things (like, the network is down) can happen.

[Yes, you give up other things in exchange for this "protection", so I'm not saying strongly-typed languages are right for everything...]

2) A product whose physical design makes its use obvious and natural, like a jack that fits into only one kind of port, and in only one, obvious orientation.

One variant of this is the concept of affordances, an example of which is a cup with a handle. The handle is said to afford grabbing it--which is the right thing. But a car dashboard with a nice flat surface affords the wrong thing--setting things on it (putting light papers on the dash can reflect on the windshield and make it impossible to see, not to mention what it does to your driving when things go sliding off the dash).

It's still possible to make products whose "correct" use is easy, but which also invite incorrect or even dangerous use. If designers follow only half of the principle ("make the right thing easy") but don't "make the wrong thing hard", then you might have a 50/50 chance that a user will, say, blow up if they he plugs the X into the Y.

3) An API design which exposes the highest-level interface rather than a huge pile of lower-level calls (which could make it way too easy, for example, to call the right things in the wrong order), and whose methods/operations are named well! Half the reason our books sell so well is simply because some of the Java API designers used names that practically beg you to do the wrong thing.

4) A school program that relys on interesting group projects rather than dull, rote memorzation homework. And make those projects something you do mostly in class!

5) And speaking of kids... I try to follow this with the teenagers as much as possible, and one of the simples ways is to have a reduced rule set. The fewer the rules, the harder it is to break them (i.e. the "wrong" thing), and the easier it is to adhere to the ones that are there.

Important note: remember that this isn't simply about making everything easy or dumbing everything down! If I'm working on a video edit, for example, the video edit is where I want my brain bandwidth to go, not how to tell the software that the edit should go here. The point is to make the thing I want to do... the "right" thing... easy, but keeping that "right" thing as complex and sophisticated as it should be. I want my video editing software to give me enormous power, but I want to focus all my brain energy on deciding where--and how--the edit should happen, and have the act of causing the edit to take place as natural as possible.

Every moment I spend trying to figure out the interface--or worse, trying to recover from a terrible mistake the software allowed or even invited--is a moment not spent creating something. Doing my real work.

Games, for example, should not be easy, but the interface in which you play the game should be. The game should allow me to stay in character and not break the flow by forcing me to deal with a user error (as opposed to a "character" error) or by forcing me to stop and look at the manual again...

Also, this does principle/mantra does NOT totally apply to learning experiences, with the exception of tools used to deliver the learning experience. Much of the most memorable learning comes explictly from failures and mistakes--things that did not match your expectations. And I sure don't want my next airline pilot to have had training that supported only the right thing (although many industrial disasters have been linked to cockpits and controls that made the wrong thing easy).

Sometimes we learn through struggle, but for the love of Smurfs, please think long and hard about which things the user should struggle with, and which things should get the hell out of his way.

I'm not saying that I know how to do this well either, but I can sure think of a zillion things I interact with where I think, "why on earth did they name that method in a way that suggests the thing you want but... does the opposite?" or "if they'd only flipped the direction of the switches, they'd be mapped perfectly to the direction of the thing they control (like the "up" switch moves things forward, and the "down" switch moves things back) or "if they didn't want you to sit on this thing, why'd they make it look and feel like a bench?"

Posted by Kathy on October 19, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack