Do Computers Still Stink?
November 8, 2004
Synopsis:It's been 7 years
since I wrote Computers Stink, a 150-page phillipic against
the industry. I've
improved the free 150-page
PDF of the book by adding bookmarks and along the way I asked
myself, "Has the industry conquered its deamons in 7 years?" Here
are my observations.
"Most Programs Are Only Half Finished"
This is not quite as bad a problem. So many
products are in fiercely competittive markets that they often 'close
the loop' on on end-to-end user needs that the functionality is
there. Wizards in many programs are a big part of the solution.
"There Are Very Few User Interface Designers"
Again, probably lots of progress. In California
and probably Washington state, there are several subcategories
of UI role: graphics, interaction, info architecture, usability
analyst, interface designer, user experience manager.
"Most Development Starts Over Again from the
Still a near disaster. This is epidemic in
the industry. Usability and pre-built artifacts are still
not built into high-school programming, project docs, flowcharts
of the business logic in general, project behavior, and most
importantly of all: the tools.
"Use Perfectly Accurate Words"
This only floats to the top because of an experience
while preparing this article. While trying to upload the new
PDF, a program reported "Directory or path not found," when in
fact it was because the PDF was open in another program. Now
a technologist might say this was an error-trapping
problem... sure. But to users, this is an accuracy problem. If
it accurately trapped the specific level of incident, the user
would have a fighting chance. It's only with huge amounts of
experience that I could translate one error to another.
"Always Show the Level at Which Options Are
Still a problem in lots of programs, but better
in many programs.
"Use Dynamic Communication, Not Dynamic Menus
I still think too many programs hide or show
features based on circumstance (context). Users would be better
served by keeping the appearance the same, and providing messages
that desribe the necessary context... or better yet change the
"Always Provide Visual Cues"
Still a problem. Web browsers in particular
don't have good enough feedback for most users. And many many
programs mistakenly use subtle messaging such as the status bar
when they should be using for in-your-face messages when the
user temporarily has no control.
"Circular References, Valueless Help"
It was only yesterday that Linksys's help told
me that activating DHCP security activates DHCP security.
We've gotten incredible gains,
and if you're not having a bad day, usability is just "sour
grapes." If you've spent all day trying to debug a 5-minute-job,
got a long way to go.