User Interfaces and — any product Interface — is very difficult to build. How do you design eating utensils for people with arthritic hands? Answering that question is not easy — the physiology of arthritic hands is complex; designing objects that hands with arthritis can grasp, hold, and use is a difficult problem. That’s just an example, but the point is this: The face of any product is the product.
Here’s a revealing experience from Erasmus Smums:
I don’t know what percentage of our time on any computer based project is spent getting the equipment to work right, but if I had a gardener who spent as much of the time fixing her shovel as we spend fooling with our computers, I’d buy her a good shovel. At least you can buy a good shovel.
I’ve always been fascinated by man-machine interactions, as well as man-product interactions. I was influenced early on by someone whom I consider a master ethnographer who taught me that humans’ non-conscious interactions with machines or products or the world around them reveal much more than anything uttered.
Currently I’m re-reading The Design of Everyday Things and The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems and also studying case studies on product development and ethnography.
Incidentally, while Toyota doesn’t use the term “ethnography”, they do in fact employ this method in how they build cars. The term “Genchi Genbutsu” means spending time where value is created or “Go and See”. Toyota engineers are notorious for spending time driving Toyota cars and learning about how it handles and how to improve it through using it. They also watch — sometimes for hours, days, or weeks machines or other items that are performing strangely. They watch; they observe; then they improve.
The Interface is the Product
For most people, the thing they touch, whether it be a graphical user interface, the screen of your blackberry, or the face on your microwave oven, or the jar of jelly that you used to make peanut butter sandwiches for your children’s lunch — that thing that you touch and interact with is the product to you. The buttons you pushed on the Microwave IS the microwave to your consciousness, not the metal or other electrical gadgetry inside the microwave. Granted, there is much more to the product; but, by and large, the thing that you interact with consciously becomes the product in our minds. The key, then, is to create an interface such that is accomplishes the objective in a humane and pragmatic way.
Setting Some Goals
I want to be more observant in my interactions with people, processes, and things. I want to watch, observe, and then they improve.