Designed for frustration – response to BankerVision

I feel compelled to respond to recent provocative article written by James Gardner. In it James explains how he has, in his own words, become an Apple Fan Boy. What's provocative is that he claims Microsoft designs for rudeness.

My caveat to my response is that I have 2 Apple devices at home and am planning on buying a third. On all of them I use Windows software. Most notably with Windows 7.

Today I went to the Apple Store for the first time to have a sneaky peak at the MacBook Air. I was side tracked by the 17” LED MacBook Pro. Funnily enough, and this is the honest truth, the first machine I came to was locked displaying only a spiral flower – the petal of death? That didn't stop the masses of people swarming for what I can only assume was the free internet (based on games and email being read). Though I did like the ad-hoc demonstrations. The staff were unexpectedly pleasant but a bit persistent, in the same way an eager sales person may try to sell you a fridge.

James makes a good point in his article– everyone gets used to what you use regularly. It becomes the norm and a standard by which you measure others. By checking out a new approach you can often have an appreciation for a different way of working. You may even find things appealing.

Here is the experiential thing with computers (as an example of technology in general):

1) a new machine always runs faster than one that has been running for a while

fresh it can be without bloat-ware, over-installation and configuration

** addendum: IEEE refers to this as software rot. and is not limited to any one OS

2) the application is king, user experience should be integral

  • the operating system should be transparent to the regular use of an application
  • additionally it should augment the application running, but providing common services and experiences

3) over time, what was once magic is now normal

generation Y’s don’t care how Facebook works. like the dancing bear, they don’t care how the bear dances, just that it dances at all. In fact in the majority of cases people are just amazed at seeing the bear!

So, as David Lane described in a recent poignant Microsoft email, if you have been around technology for a while you will appreciate how Microsoft has commoditised and taken the user experience, devices and network beyond the black screen, the mainframe and point to point.  And at the same time software is now more accessible, cheaper and better than when it was a mass of small disconnected applications.

In short what was amazing and generalised, in say XP, is now normal to the point of frustrating in light of changes to the way we work and use technology at home.

Apple has moved on since 2001 and so has Microsoft (see Silverlight, Surface and Office as examples). To James Mobile point, I enjoy Windows Mobile, on my HTC Touch HD, but there is room for improvement.

My point is, no-one designs to be rude, but software, particularly old software, can be frustrating. I call this technology frustration “friction”.  Friction, in this sense, is founded in some basic  feelings… Is this application:

  • making me feel stupid
    • this results in frustration. I end up experimenting and assuming
  • asking me something it should already know
    • this results in frustration. The application is giving me the run-around
  • making me wait
    • this result in frustration. There are other things I could be doing

I felt this when I tried to find the system properties of the Mac I was looking at. I found it with some help on the About this mac drop down menu from the top left menu bar. Similarly this information can be found in many places on Windows, but unless you can find it, its not obvious.

My suggestion for friction, and therefore frustration, limitation is to keep current.

** addendum: Friction may be a function of time or experience. e.g. Friction/Time = Features (assuming all things remain equal). In other words, over time friction should become less.

Inversely its entirely possible that what was we go past the "its a great toy" stage, does the new experience remain frictionless? Put another way, it may be logical that we are prepared to put up with some initial friction because we have forked out a significant sum of money, and/or because it has the cool factor. iPhone, as an example,  I think is certainly a good consumer product and remains fairly frictionless for most users. However, as is floating around with some of the people I follow on twitter, it is not without its own frustrations. See this as a recent restore: