Francis Hwang on Thu, 2 May 2002 17:43:02 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] <nettime> Having to think about interface

Christopher Fahey wrote:

>(3) CHALLENGING THE USER: As Joseph pointed out, "ease of use" is often
>deliberately thwarted in computer games. Interactivity as an art form
>(and as a new kind of creative human experience) would be terribly
>boring if everything were easy or obvious. A game that tells you how
>everything works is an insult to the player's intelligence.

I beg to differ. Although we can perhaps draw an exception for 
artwork, users of software aren't using software for the joy of using 
software; they're using it to accomplish a specific task. Maybe 
they're ordering plane tickets or looking up movie times. Maybe they 
want to get press information about a company. Maybe they want to 
play a game. They certainly don't want to think a lot about interface.

This applies to games as well as everything else. All the best games 
have highly specialized but nonetheless well-crafted, intuitive 
interfaces. A good game is not one where people post on bulletin 
boards asking questions about the interface. They ask questions about 
the domain: "The Brogan Raiders keep coming over the castle walls, 
and I don't have enough Barbarians to defend! What do I do?"

What's curious is that even though games do usually require a highly 
customized interface, they still end up using many of the same 
concepts that you'll get in, say, Microsoft Excel. How do you select 
multiple units in Starcraft? Click-and-drag til your select rectangle 
is over everything you want selected, just like on the Macintosh 

>Josh Davis said, in one of his many famous tirades against usability
>guru Jakob Nielsen, that we shouldn't treat users like idiots. That's a
>good rule of thumb in any context.

Jakob Nielsen does not argue that users are idiots. Really, what he's 
saying is that users have other things to do with their time than 
figure out a fancy new interface. Designers can be guilty of tunnel 
vision, like everything else: They assume that because they spend a 
lot of time thinking about something, everybody else should be as 
conscious of it. Well, that's wrong.

Users are normal people, with many demands on their time. You think 
all they have to do is sit around and use software? They have a 
million things to take care of in any given day -- homework for 
class, pick up the kids from day care, grocery shopping, go to work, 
never mind actually fun things like seeing movies and hanging out 
with friends. Why shouldn't we impatient with software? If I have to 
spend an extra 30 seconds learning how to use a non-standard 
scrollbar, what do I get out of that?

What's curious about this discussion is that it mirrors the attitude 
many geeks had about Macintoshes when they first came out. (I'm a Mac 
user, but as a programmer it works out since I have a Linux box under 
my desk.) Tech-heads talked this and that about how you didn't get 
all the control you could get with a Windows box. Again, tunnel 
vision: They couldn't believe that someone might have use for a 
computer and yet not need to kinds of things you'd get by being able 
to directly edit AUTOEXEC.BAT. Well, life is a series of tradeoffs, 
and some people just want to have a computer to surf the web, write 
term papers, send email, and listen to MP3s. A lot of people, as it 
turns out.

Francis Hwang

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