The difficulties of user interface was not started with the advent of computers.  It has been around for every piece of technology.

I was watching The History Channel’s great documentary, America The Story Of Us.  It was a very interesting documentary with one of the themes being America’s fascination with and use of technology.  America used a better, more accurate rifle to help win the American Revolution and continues today with computer and mobile technology.

Of one the stories in it was about Henry Ford’s Model T.  I learned that one of the jobs of a car salesman at that was to teach people to drive their new car.  If you are designing software and especially user interfaces you need to get feedback from your end users.  This became very clear after one on the Model T stories they related on the documentary.  A car salesman was teaching a man to drive.  He needed to brake, but it instead of depressing the brake pedal he yelled “WHOA!”.  The driver’s reference point was that car was a horse that could hear him and react.  This wasn’t the case and the car went off the road.

I think one of the most difficult things when creating a user interface is the human randomness aspect of it.  Your users will have a very different frame of reference than we do.  They will use the software in a way that you never expected.  They will find very odd workarounds to your bugs or limitations.

My wife recently switched to using a Google Voice number.  The telephone and its concepts have been around for long time.  I listened to her explaining Google Voice to her friends and family and they had a very difficult time understanding it.  It was simply a way for them to call one number and have it ring both her cell and home phone.  To this day, they call her Google Voice, cell and home phone, one after the other.

New technology will always contain some difficulties.  Dealing with end users will help mitigate that.

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