Monday, February 21, 2005
making it easy...to make mistakes
What happened in this upsetting comedy was not, strictly speaking, a case of bad usability. There was nothing misleading or ambiguous about the screens. My friend admits: he made a mistake. Just like us humans, we make mistakes. But the system conspired to make it easy for the mistake to be made. Some people -- IBM for example -- refer to usability as "ease of use." In my friend's case, ease of use itself was the problem. Some tasks require we pay attention, and so they shouldn't be too easy. I once heard a safety consultant compare the design of cars with fighter planes. In fighter planes, designers force the pilot to pay attention and be vigilant. In cars, designers try to make driving less taxing mentally, and offer many distractions to the boring task of following the road. Drivers are rewarded with easy of use, but can be lulled into accidents.