It’s easy to find fault with technology. It breaks, it is hard to use, it never seems to work the way you want it to. On the other hand, it’s also easy to forget how amazing today’s technology is. The things we do evergy day (take digital pictures, watch videos on the internet etc.) were utterly inconceivable only a few years ago. Fluid, intuitive, and ergonomic design tends to take much longer than advances in technological capabilities. The ability to make a functioning digital camera is totally separate from the ability to design one that everyone can operate. My question is…why is this the case? Why can we conceive that something is technologically possible without automatically understanding the most logical way to design it? Maybe some designers and engineers could answer this question.
Excerpt from Newsweek’s Interview with Bill Moggridge (designer of the first lap top):
When Bill Moggridge bought a digital watch for his son in 1983, it took him “20 minutes of concentrated effort” to set the alarm so his boy wouldn’t miss his paper route. Then daylight savings time came and the younger Moggridge gave up his early mornings. Dad was enlisted to cancel the alarm and reset the time, but of course the instructions were long gone. You’d think Moggridge, who designed the first-ever laptop computer in 1980 (the GRiD Compass), would be able to figure out how to reset the time on a dinky watch with only four buttons. You’d be wrong.
Today Moggridge, who has since founded the influential Silicon Valley-based design firm IDEO, holds the watch up as an unshining example of bad industrial design. In his new book, “Designing Interactions,” Moggridge conducts 40 interviews with industry pioneers who do the job right.
Newseek: Why are so many people so bad at [making technology intuitive and attractive]? Is it very hard to do?
Bill Moggridge: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it’s very young. These things take a long time to evolve…The early 35 mm cameras, which were used by the astronauts when they went up to space first, took almost a Ph.D. to operate. In the professional phase everything started to sort itself, so the way of adjusting the aperture and focus were roughly similar across the range of all makes. They weren’t easy to use, you had to be a professional and get a lot of expertise in order to understand how to be good. It’s only when they moved into the consumer phase that everything became automated, so you had automatic focus, automatic exposure, automatic wind so that almost anybody could take a pretty good photograph—you just point and shoot.
I was fascinated by the evolution of the mouse—how intuitive it is today and, of course, how much work went into that, how many prototypes and stages of evolution there were.
I think if you look at those early tests, there were huge varieties. The things that Doug Engelbart was testing in the beginning included something you’d wear on your head and something you operated with your knee, as well as various devices that were on the desk. In that sense the diversity, before they did the testing with people on prototypes, was as wide as anything could have been. Much to their surprise, it turned out that the mouse was the best performing device.