You have a pliers in your kitchen. Rant on. If you were lucky enuogh to read Don Norman’s rant in Fast Company, you must agree with his view of design and its mismatch with the needs of the elderly. You would agree with Don that today’s designs fail all people, not just the elderly. Because you too have a pliers or wrench in your kitchen to twist tops off bottles and jars. You puzzle at how best to position a knife to release the suction on jars. You have a slippery front door handle that a person with hand arthritis could never open. You have a not-so-universal TV remote with 45 buttons on it, the smallest of which is ‘Mute’. If you have another box, it has a remote, and perhaps another for stereo equipment and an stylishly confusing one for Apple TV. And that’s just one room. You frequently want to print from a device to a network printer, which requires a network, which requires a router, which needs an upgrade. Let’s not go there.
We want to love our smartphones, but they typify the design problem. With my skeptical and low expectations, the one I have now is speedy and reasonably priced, stuffed into a non-slip case. It is the latest in a lo-o-o-n-g lineage of Android and Blackberry phones — and it mostly works for me. And no wonder. I worked tirelessly at making it so. I chose the apps, the screen layouts, the font size, and examined each of 14 categories of settings. I use many features, including the camera; playing music from the phone and streaming music from the Internet. I have multiple browsers and search engines. In short, I’ve worked at this — as with my previous phone, it took the equivalent of two days of my time, plus numerous searches of the Android forums. Those are still the go-to source for trouble shooting problems that are endless, especially after an upgrade of an app, browser, or the device. My fear of it breaking or becoming obsolete? Starting over.
Like the twist-off cap, the interface can be impenetrable. Take the camera application home screen which has 12 symbols on the primary screen, one which is ‘More’ which leads to 14 more options (not kidding). Although I have enlarged fonts elsewhere, the 14 options have miniscule text below them. Two of the options are “Manual.” Someone refused to add the word ‘Video’ to the second one, even though there is room on the screen. I have a smartphone app that mostly, but not always, syncs with my fitness watch, but accidental touch of the watch’s amazingly touchy screen undoes the style and requires the phone to put it back the way it was.
We lost our dials and buttons – and so the people were lost. Don observed that “Physical controls are by far the easiest to control–safer too, especially in safety-critical tasks such as driving a car, but they are disappearing.” TVs and radios, actual telephones, clocks, knobs on stoves – having a non-digital face is so yesterday. Maybe learning to tell time will also be yesterday, along with handwriting. And you wonder why Voice First came into our lives at just the right moment, even with its hilarious misunderstandings and mistakes, it is (one) improvement in design that is compelling. Perhaps because the rest of our experience, like Don’s, is so poor. Rant off.
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