Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Should Technology Be Obvious?

We don't throw around the word "intuitive" the way we used to, at least not when talking about computers and related technology. In fact, "intuitive" became somewhat of a joke for a while. I once had a Mac-hating boss who would sarcastically say "isn't it intuitive" whenever he assigned me a Mac problem and I let on that I was having trouble with it.

The real problem, however, with the idea that this or that technology is easy to use, intuitive, obvious is that unless you specify who the user is it has no meaning. No technology is easy to use devoid of context. Likewise it is meaningless without specifying a task.

Say I buy a solid-state audio recorder like a Zoom H4. Is it easy to use? It would depend entirely on who is using it and what they are trying to do. Is it me capturing sounds in a parking lot to use in my music or is it my daughter recording an interview for the school paper? What type of computer will we connect it to? Are either of us expected to do any editing on the device? Do either of us know how to get audio from the H4 into a computer audio editor?

Yah, yah, yah, you say, perspective and context are everything. Heard it before. Right tool for the job. Whatever.

It's more than that. It has to do with what we expect from other people. It should inform how we give advice...especially free advice.

Ask questions. Don't assume. Nothing is always obvious to everybody.

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