I just started reading a book called â€œSmall Things Considered- Why There Is No Perfect Designâ€?? by Henry Petroski. The theme of the book is that everything in life involves some kind of design- and each time design in considered, choices must be made and the result is that there is no such thing as perfect design.
Getting started with this book made me think about my first years with computers and how I looked at the way I interacted with the computer. Like a lot of people, my first year (circa 1995) was rather perplexing. Why donâ€™t these error messages make any sense to me? Why is that button labeled that way? Why isnâ€™t this easier? Iâ€™m confused!
At some point in the last few years, I realized something about computers. I realized that they are designed my humans. Previously, I had assumed that my confusion was part of the computer experience- dealing with confusing errors and processes was normal- computers canâ€™t be made easier for reasons I canâ€™t understand- itâ€™s their nature to be confusing.
Then, I realized that someone actually designed it that way. Each button I click, each error message I see was designed by a person. Someone somewhere made the design decision that that when â€œXYZâ€?? happened, the error would say â€œLMNOPâ€??.
Once I humanized the computer experience in my mind, it really got to me. I couldnâ€™t believe that someone had the ability to make this experience better- but didnâ€™t. Someone actually chose to use that language instead of something more understandable.
I think this is one of the realizations that got me interested in usability- that my confusion was related to a real personâ€™s design decisions. These days things are a lot better, but the majority of people out there are still feeling perplexed by computers and web sites.
If I can do one thing with Common Craft, it will be to make the experience of using online communities and other interactive web sites less confusing for the new users out there. There are countless people assuming that computers and web sites are complex by nature. A key to success in my mind is showing these folks that theyâ€™re not complex by nature- they are complex by design and design is something that can and will be corrected.