back to article IT design: You're not data, you're a human being

"Metrics" is rapidly becoming something of a cult among IT vendors. Many are betting the future of their companies on data gathering and foster a culture that treats user behaviour-monitoring like a religion. I've never fully believed in this practice, but it is hard to deny its allure. People are fickle and hard to predict; …

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  1. MrMcginty

    Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

    When you have a practical monopoly, you can dictate terms, and Apple were so successful for so long in getting their consumers to do things Apple's way, that the mindset seems to have changed from 'What does the customer want?' to a kind of design imperialism - as if these products were coming out of some Ministry Of Technology which expects that the proles will just have to read the pamphlets and adjust their habits. They figure that if we want it that bad (iPhones and the shiny mobile space, next-gen game consoles, access to new TV and movies, etc) we will get it on the producers' terms or not at all.

    Only recently have there been major signs of customer-dissension actually changing this mindset, such as the MS U-turn on some of the nastier proposed features of the XBox One, and the grudging semi-return of the Windows start menu. But everyone outside Apple has just been dazzled at the degree to which unwanted or unwelcome changes can be forced on customers without any major penalty on sales (if any).

    As regards computing, I think the argument is skewed by the 'middle bell' consumers you mention. Before the reductionist age of the iPhone came in, we were talking about a band of people (and lets avoid demographics here, insert your own prejudices) who formerly relied on spouses, friends and relatives to set up and/or troubleshoot their computing experiences.

    With practically all the options taken away (apart from the colour of the iPhone case), there was little left that could go wrong anymore. Today's middle-bell computing consumers feel liberated from the thrall of geeks, I think, and to boot have become the defining force in the consumer marketplace. What they will accept, en masse, is what the rest of us will end up with, like it or lump it.

    On the plus side, it's still the same crazy jumble of spaghetti wires behind the shiny shiny, and those who are able to work with that can still do so, and arguably have better tools to do this than they have ever had. And, mostly, the tools are free.

    It's just that geeks have to work harder these days to get their own computing experience 'their way'. And many of the most popular consumer products, following the iPhone/iPad model, are hermetically sealed in every sense imaginable. That won't change, so long as the numerous middle-bell consumers keep consuming.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

      Nicely put

      > That won't change, so long as the numerous middle-bell consumers keep consuming.

      And there would be no problem with that as long as "the other solution" keeps existing. Plush dwellers, button pushers and juveniles out for a good time can get their functional tool, while tinkerers and professionals get to have an inspectable, modifiable machinery. Unfortunately the creeping monetization of everything (including debt) and the quest of selling everything on which you can affix a price sticker (even if you actually cannot and do not own it in the first place) means that so-called "Intellectual Property" (aka. economic nonsense) will continue be a growing menace to the continued existence of the "the other solution".

    2. Arctic fox
      Thumb Up

      @MrMcginty Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

      First class post, that's all I have to say.

    3. ao7-

      Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

      Compulsory change also involves someone else making decisions for you, bossing you about.

      Regardless of the eventual benefit of the change, say a new version of MS Office, it annoys all users, though newcomers least of all as less of their knowledge is being made obsolete. "Where's the button to make it the way it was?" "I don't want the new stuff, I want to do it the way I always do it"

      Don't agree with you about Apple. For a decade or more they were the living dead, with just a cult following of designers and architects. I've never owned an Apple product because, in turns, a Windows PC was the clear winner, they were expensive, they are all controlling. Now Android and Samsung are ahead in volume terms. Though to get anything like the privacy I get with a desktop PC I'll have to familiarize myself with a new operating system on a personal-data-stripping-by-design platform.

      This is an illustration of capitalism and the pleasure of making a consumer choice (which is similar to holding a grudge against those businesses that have crossed you).

      Think you're right about "liberation from the geeks", particularly with our aging population. Some find it humiliating that a technological change means they can no longer do something they used to be able to do and they find it difficult to learn new things (yes, it happens anyway but they're disappointed to have it brought forward rather than delayed).

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

        I don't have a problem with compulsory change. In fact, I prefer it. Someone gives me orders and it is my duty to obey. If it fails catastrophically, it's on their head, not mine. If I see a demand for Windows 8 from my clients, then I will run a Windows 8 box on my desk alongside my CentOS, Windows XP, Windows 7, and various OSX boxes. Just because I don't like the change in question doesn't mean I won't stump up and do the job.

        The issue is the not all change is good, and change for change's sake is stupid. Change needs to provide a clear benefit. To me, to my coworkers or to my employer. If the change in question offers no clear benefit then why in $deity's name should we engage in it?

        Should we engage in change because a $software_Company blogger or executive tries to shame people through statements like "holding back progress"?

        Should we engage in change because that change reduces costs or advances a strategic plan of one of our vendors?

        Should we engage in change because of peer pressure, lobbying, marketing or advertorials?

        Or should we only engage in change where there is a definable reason to do so that benefits us? I'm not afraid of change at all. I am, however, overworked, exhausted and poor. If you want to foist change upon me you're going to have to demonstrate quite clearly how that change will make my life better. If you can't do it then I will resist.

    4. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

      "Today's middle-bell computing consumers feel liberated from the thrall of geeks, I think..."

      I think that is partially true but, speaking as someone who spent nearly two decades being the geek of the family, isn't it also partly the result of the exasperation of the geeks resulting in trying to make systems idiot proof? I imagine computer companies aren't any different since part of their quest is to reduce the number of tech support calls to zero. The ultimate goal is to have a 1/0 switch and [magic happens here] we get exactly what we want. I don't think anyone would complain, even Trevor, as long as the magic works but that's the problem. The magic too often doesn't work because the current attempts at magic are all misdirection without the amazing part.

      Hmm, "Exasperation of the Geeks" isn't a bad movie title but it sounds a bit too much "Revenge of the Nerds" meets "The Net" meets "Plan 9 from Outer Space" for a general release so a porn movie perhaps.

      1. Red Bren
        Paris Hilton

        Porn Movie Title?

        How about "Ejaculation of the Geeks!"

        I fear the cast would consist of a lot of socially inept blokes and a one attractive woman. You can make up your own "plot"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Porn Movie Title?

          How about "Ejaculation of the Geeks!"

          Oh dear. Someone discovered hands free.

    5. Mike Flugennock

      Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

      When you have a practical monopoly, you can dictate terms, and Apple were so successful for so long in getting their consumers to do things Apple's way, that the mindset seems to have changed from 'What does the customer want?' to a kind of design imperialism...

      Well-llll... yes, and no.

      In the first design shop I worked in which used computers, we had an old CompuGraphic 7500 system, and a desktop micro using MS-DOS. Christ, what a headache, trying to remember all the secret languages and magic words just to get work done. Simple things like changing directories and copying files were a source of constant pain. I'd been there about a year when we got our first Mac system, and suddenly, doing all the basic things I needed to do to get the computer to do what I needed it to do were child's play. Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer. What a breeze. That's a text file, that's a bitmap image file, that's a vector graphic file, that's an application. Put this here. Put that there. Create a "folder" and stash my stuff in it. Put this INIT file in there, so it'll load when the system boots. Things like disk space and memory management were suddenly a piece of cake. With the Mac GUI I could finally concentrate on getting my work done instead of trying to remember the secret languages and magic words. It's been nearly thirty years, and I still actually enjoy using my computer and experimenting with it and releasing my inner geek, despite my not being formally trained in IT.

      That said, as much as I'm occasionally jealous, I don't think I'd want an iPhone, based on my observations of my wife with hers. I tried to use it once. What a pain in the ass. Even my skinny, bony fingers are too big and clumsy to work the interface properly; I have to use one of those fake "fingers". I can't customize the UI. I can't use any apps that aren't Apple-approved apps. I like the quality of the images and sound from the camera, but that's not enough to make me want one. I fiddled with a friend's iPad for a bit; it was fun to play with for about five minutes, but there was the same pain in the ass as with the wife's iPhone. My friend thinks his iPad is pretty cool, but I can't run what I want on it, I can't customize the UI, and it's pretty useless for what I'd want a tablet for, which makes it decidedly uncool to me.

    6. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

      >Today's middle-bell computing consumers feel liberated from the thrall of geeks

      I see no evidence of this. It's possible I'm hanging out with the wrong people, but a quick survey of the web shows that surprisingly large numbers of people are doing geeky things like rooting their phones and tablets and making apps for them.

      They're not turning into instant Linux deities, but the idea of Joe and Joette Average rooting a complicated device with dd and ssh would have been unthinkable twenty years ago, back when most of the population had no idea what the Internet was.

      The massive non-takeup of Win 8 just proves the point. Too many people look at it and think 'Fuck that'. They're not buying it - literally.

      They are buying iPhones and S2/3/4s and such. But the genius of skeumorphism was to physicalise complicated tools and make them instantly comprehensible.

      Most people know how that goes now and are willing to move up a level. So this is not the time to be herding the non-geeks towards the happy land of brightly-coloured Fisher Price computing.

      What people actually want is tools that get out of the way. Some of them care about looks too, but most people just don't want their time wasted. And the most recent disasters - including Win 8 - aren't about change for the sake of it, but about forcing everyone to waste time for no net benefit.

      This is not the way to win friends and influence social media.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: "What people actually want is tools that get out of the way"

        Brilliantly said !

        I will be repeating that.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: "What people actually want is tools that get out of the way"

          Spot on.

          The 'MS knows best' way of operating really irritates me. Then they have the gall to ask if I would join the customer improvement programme? Yeah right, going by recent events they pay lip service to that at best.

          I want an OS that gets out of the way and lets me do the job. MS isn't alone here btw.

          Gnome3 and Unity are also on my 'crap list' This trend to dumb down the UI is all well and good if all you want to do is ...

          Play MP3's, Watch Videos, Surf the Internet, Send Emails and write a document or two. Go beyond that and they fall down miserably (IMHO and I accept that others may have different opinions)

          (all I want for Christmas is Gnome2, Cinnamon does not hack IMHO).

          yours, a grumpy old man who really did get out of bed the wrong side today.

  2. mark 63 Silver badge

    If only we had "Mom's Friendly Robot company"

    Everybody loves mom!

  3. Don Jefe

    Data Dumbassery

    Management of Humans by data alone removes the 'gut' feeling innovators thrive with. It is an attempt to mitigate or eliminate risk or dissent that puts growth into silos to the detriment of the business as a whole. HP is a good example of purely 'analytical management' in practice: Elimination/scale back of engineering and R&D and focus on services. Profits jump temporarily, but the overall business has been hobbled and any foundation for future growth had been eliminated.

    There is also the big question of interpretations of the data... Statistics are dangerous when applied to Humans as can be evidenced by the heavily weighted questions posed to focus groups. Either the data itself is manipulated to meet the needs of those asking the questions or the questions are designed to almos guarantee a finding. Focus groups are an offshoot of 'analytical management' which gets back to eliminating the 'gut' feeling. Everyone is scared to make decisions without supporting data and it is cancer to creativity and innovation.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Data Dumbassery

      Of course they are scared. Getting fired sucks. Getting sued sucks even more.

      But having the whole world know you were incompetent in the first place is unforgivable. So you blame the first person with anything near to responsibility.

  4. moiety

    Totally with you on both Sony and not using search as a means of firing up programs. Good article.

    1. Roo

      Trevor's relationship with Sony is almost identical to mine, although Sony earned an additional red flag in my case, every single Sony device I have ever bought has failed within 18 months of purchase. Agree with search for programs, it really doesn't work for me either, although I do actually enjoy using a Bourne Shell variant, so typing/word memory doesn't seem to stop me there. I think the key point about Bourne Shell is that it hasn't changed for 20+ years. GUIs come and go every couple of years, and that is a problem.

      1. moiety

        The rootkit was the end of Sony for me. I only nearly copped it; but -as resident nerd- did have to clear off a few friends and family machines. To be honest, I'm a little conflicted with M$ making such a bollocks of the new XBox; but I'm still not giving Sony any money. Or microsoft unless they seriously get their act together.

        My personal memory palace is (as a vague nod to the 21st Century) is Classic Shell; which gives a Win98/XP-style flyout menu which I organise according to classes of programs (games, office, system, graphics etc.) so I can find everything quickly. Can't really get on with command line...I always manage to find the one full stop or space that will completely wreck the computer. Plus remembering stuff is really not my forte.

        I do have searches: the wonderful Everything which is good for finding out where the hell that download went to and the equally wonderful FileLocator Pro which is supremely useful for searching though code; but I don't want to be buggering around remembering the name of apps...when I fire something up; I'm already using my processing power for working out what I'm going to do with the program when it loads. Having to stop and remember the name of the damn thing would definitely throw a spanner in for me.

        1. frank ly
          Thumb Up

          yep

          I know what it does, which toolbar it's supposed to be on and I know exactly what the icon looks like. Why should I remember the name?

    2. Mike Flugennock

      re: search as a means of...

      Totally with you on both Sony and not using search as a means of firing up programs...

      When my wife is looking for a Web site and is uncertain of the domain name, she types it into the search box at Google, f'cripesake. Whenever I try to point out that it's not going to hurt anything to just take an educated guess and type it straight into the Firefox location field, she pitches a fit. Bahhh...

      1. Jordan Davenport

        Re: re: search as a means of...

        Did she perchance try visiting the White House's website a decade ago? I had a social studies teacher that accidentally sent my class to the .com site instead of .gov, back before Web filters were any decent. If you don't know the domain name, it's very possible to get hurt just taking a guess, and that's one of the reasons search engines exist in the first place.

  5. Dr. Ellen

    I want what I'm used to! It still does the job!

    I know a writer who insists on using Word 97. That's how she writes, and it doesn't get in her way. I tried getting her to move to Open Office -- she tried and tried, and hated it. So I'm gradually accumulating systems that run Windows XP, because Windows 7 doesn't play nicely with Word 97. She shouldn't be stranded in a world where she can only get Windows 8+. It would ruin her livelihood.

    This is where the market for refurbished computers shines.

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: I want what I'm used to! It still does the job!

      VMs, including the one that comes with some (more expensive) versions of Win7, may be an answer - XP will soon stop receiving security updates.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "XP will soon stop receiving security updates."

        This is what MS want Joe Public to think. In reality, security updates for XP will continue to be developed and distributed, they just won't be distributed through traditional channels.

        To a different set of customers than the desktop PC ecosystem, MS have said:

        1) Windows XP Embedded is Windows XP, just packaged and licenced differently

        2) Windows XP Embedded security updates will be available until 12 January 2016 [1]

        The work to provide those security updates is already paid for. But Microsoft apparently don't think that's enough; MS want Joe Public to get off XP and onto the latest greatest MS OS.

        MS will probably be half right; quite a few people (from Joe Public, corporates, and from those in between) will soon be giving up on XP. How many of them will stay with MS in the current state of MS and Windows 8 and Android and Apple is a somewhat different question. The clued up folks are already having that thought.

        Of course if MS continued to distribute the security updates for XP during the timeframe FOR WHICH MS HAVE ALREADY COMMITTED TO DEVELOP AND DELIVER THESE UPDATES, customers/users etc who are happy with XP would have less reason to look elsewhere. While MS were doing that, they'd have a chance to fix Windows 8.

        Separately: someone outside MS taking the XP Embedded updates and "back porting" them to XP Classic would have to look carefully at the licence under which such updates were provided. It seems highly unlikely that reverse engineering or redistribution would be permitted. But you never know till you look.

        [1] Sources:

        http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=3220

        http://blogs.msdn.com/b/windows-embedded/archive/2011/02/17/support-lifecycle-transitions-for-windows-xp-embedded.aspx

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge
          Unhappy

          Re: "XP will soon stop receiving security updates."

          Your point about XP embedded is technically correct, but my guess is that MS will deny "desktop XP" users these updates simply out of spite. It just seems to be the way the company operates these days. I think, as the article notes, they are "trying to copy Apple".

          1. sabroni Silver badge

            Re: simply out of spite

            Hardly. To push users towards the failing Windows 8 more like. Big corporations (Apple's ongoing litigation shenanigans excepted) tend to do things to make money. Do you think keeping XP going is going to make MS much cash? I don't.

    2. frank ly

      Re: I want what I'm used to! It still does the job!

      For large documents with lots of narrative text, I use a set (for structure) of .txt files and just keep typing and proof reading (multi tab editor) until I thnk it's right. Only then do I copy/paste into Word/LO and start to think about page layout and paragraph trimming, etc.

  6. Decade
    Angel

    MacOS is there for you

    If you want hierarchical icons and consistently placed menus, you should be using MacOS. Apple has always been better at having Human Interface Guidelines (even if they don't always follow them), and they haven't dramatically changed the interface since the switch to MacOS X. The downside is they've never fixed the OS X Finder, which still sucks at the basics compared to the Classic MacOS Finder.

    I think a search-based interface is crucial to manage the complexity of modern systems. A hierarchical clicking system is fine when you have only a few files, but as the number of files goes up then it becomes unwieldy. The worst is the Windows XP Start Menu: Non-alphabetical, multi-column, with sub-menus jumping out at you like bogeymen if you don't move the pointer to the correct selection with the proper grace. When MacOS X 10.4 and Windows Vista introduced searching that worked, I was pleased to use it.

    1. moiety

      Re: MacOS is there for you

      A search-based interface is fine if you take the 'handbag' approach to storage...essential to have it as an option. I organise my files as they come in, though, so I only need to search if I've lost something or it isn't where I thought it was.

      The XP menu is fine; but again you benefit if you organise things as they come in. Every program you install comes with it's own folder and a bunch of icons and if you just leave it like that then -you're right- you end up with a mess. Usually, though, you only need one of those icons...the one that fires up the program; so if you just take the useful icons and categorise them then you can get a LOT of programs into a small, neat space. I've got somewhere north of 100 applications on this machine and I can get to everything very quickly. You can have it in alphabetical order (Right-click --> Sort By Name) if you like. I do mine in 'most used at the top' so if I'm looking for something I use rarely, I start looking from the bottom of the list upwards. It does take a little time to organise things like this; but over the life of the computer you're going to be wasting much more time looking for stuff if you don't put the effort in.

      1. Paul Shirley

        Re: the Start Menu

        I strongly suspect part of the apathy for the XP style Start Menu springs from Microsoft completely failing to tell ordinary users how to manage the thing. It's sometimes obvious when the haters post about it's deficiencies they've just let Windows drop crap into it, without ever sorting additions, adding categories to the tree, removed junk or done anything to manage the ensuing mess. Without even noticing drag'n'drop works on it and takes seconds to undo what installers break.

        Yet the same 'unstructure list' behaviour on the shiny new Start Screen is somehow magically more efficient...

        My start menu has ordered imposed on it and in return I no longer need to remember where things are. I've effectively offloaded some of my cognitive load on the machine. It seems that I'm in a minority of people able to manage what installers throw at me, a minority that can be ignored in favour of dragging me back into the same mire the majority put up with.

        To much concentration on metrics just drags us all down to the same level.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Design driven by "metrics" has a long and *dishonorable* history.

    Ford Edsel anyone?

    Somewhat ironically aren't most of those "corner cases" the reasons (or at least the justification) why most of those "bells and whistles" exist?

    So you should be left with a core, fast application.

    Yeah, right.

    1. Don Jefe
      Happy

      Re: Design driven by "metrics" has a long and *dishonorable* history.

      You are correct in your observations. I just want to point out that I like the Edsel. They are just so queer looking I can't help it :)

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Design driven by "metrics" has a long and *dishonorable* history.

      See also The Simpsons, the episode where Homer designs a car.

      1. moiety

        Re: Design driven by "metrics" has a long and *dishonorable* history.

        Someone built one

  8. Graham Marsden
    Devil

    Metrics and me...

    Build in as many trackers as you like, I'll use NoScript and Ghostery and DoNotTrack and Adblock Plus and Flashblock and Ref Control and Beef Taco and any other software I like because I don't want someone looking over my shoulder every time I go browsing on the web!

    1. Nick 65

      Re: Metrics and me...

      If the majority of the geeks and people at one end of the curve do that, does that mean that the metrics, and therefore design decisions, are based solely on people who don't care enough or don't know enough to block the trackers?

      This could speed up the effect of concentrating on the middle of that curve. Right up until adblocking becomes normal, by whatever means.

    2. No longer in IT
      Unhappy

      Re: Metrics and me...

      "Build in as many trackers as you like, I'll use NoScript and Ghostery and DoNotTrack and Adblock Plus and Flashblock and Ref Control and Beef Taco and any other software I like because I don't want someone looking over my shoulder every time I go browsing on the web!"

      Unfortunately ADP has apparently succumbed to the almighty dollar of Google adverts:

      http://www.neowin.net/news/report-google-paying-adblock-plus-to-not-block-google039s-ads

  9. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

    For any given piece of software, the majority probably don't know about all the features and there are a lot of people who barely know the basics. If you let majority voting drive the design of future versions, the result is a Windows 8^W^Wa mess.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

      So design by metrics is an algorithm that converges on a product with no features at all.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

        "So design by metrics is an algorithm that converges on a product with no features at all."

        Well it will have an "exit" option on the file menu.

        All users everywhere use that.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

          Not with TIFKAM. The exit option was the last barrier to a truly efficient app.

    2. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

      "the majority probably don't know about all the features and there are a lot of people who barely know the basics."

      This includes software and interface design, programming (GUI or the other kinds), and most other human activities.

      Reminds me of a Churchill quote: "The best argument against democracy[*] is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

      [*] Surely a type of a metric applied to all of us, eh?

  10. Hungry Sean

    search as a gui replacement

    Had the terrible experience the other day of trying to help an intern with Ubuntu 13 try to figure out how to mount a samba share. Everything is search driven and it sucks hard on several fronts. Hadn't really appreciated what people were hollering about until just now as "surely, search is a supplementary method to getting what you want."

    First, stuff isn't where I can find it easily without search (control panels, menus, icons, whatever)

    But the search results themselves are damn worthless (won't find the thing I want)

    *and* the access is slow as sin.

    So, no added ability to get things without knowing what/where they are already, and worse access speed, and you need to *guess* to find what you want. That said, the quality of web search has progressed enormously in the last decade, so the QoR and QoS will probably improve. Still, this really seems like it ought to be a supplementary, rather than a primary means of access to important system tools.

  11. Tim Roberts 1

    the sony case is interesting

    I don't recall ever owning a Sony device, but the events mentioned came back to mind when I read the article. Yes, I probably have an anti-Sony bias as well, in all likelyhood driven by the backlash that I read on this and other similar sites/forums.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: the sony case is interesting

      That social magnification thing I talked about? Yeah...

  12. C. P. Cosgrove

    The blind

    There was an interesting, almost throwaway, remark in that article on the lines of 'Considering the blind when designing web-sites'. There must be hundreds of readers of El Reg who design or operate web-sites - I run two myself and will admit I have never given anything other than the most passing thought to users with physical handicaps. Yet one of my neighbours is blind so I have less excuse than many.

    How do you accommodate people with severe physical handicaps ? I suppose adding sound to your links would be a start, But how do you make a Club program readily comprehensible ? I could see it being necessary to make every date a separate 'sound bite'. How I would do this within the size constraints of a 'free' hosting arrangement suitable for a small Club, that too escapes me !

    Chris Cosgrove

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: The blind

      Blind people use screen readers. What you need are versions of your site that are easily read and used by those with screen readers.

      It basically means writing two sites; one simple and textual for blind people. No fancy anything, no graphics, no fooferah. The other a pain in the ASCII CSS nightmare for the sighted.

      Personally, all my future websites are going to be for the unsighted first. Content is king. The sighted stuff will come later, after we've finished beating the content into whatever is the visual aesthetic of the day. (Though I remain "not a fan" of a steamrollered-flat Metro-fetish of today's designers.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: restricted vision

        You're not doing an unscreenreadable animated unsearchable unindexable Flash-only version then, Trevor?

        Some people still do :(

        Please would you help re-educate them. Thank you.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: restricted vision

          If you still use Flash on a website then you deserve nothing less than 2 weeks in the stocks in the town square. There's just no excuse for this on new websites. (Though I have some sympathy for it existing on older sites that haven't been updated.)

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: The blind

        "It basically means writing two sites; one simple and textual for blind people. No fancy anything, no graphics, no fooferah. The other a pain in the ASCII CSS nightmare for the sighted."

        Back when I was still on dialup I'd regularly load a site without graphics for speed.

        I think I might try that with the reg and see what that happens.

        Regarding images is the problem that no one bothers with a text description of the image rather than just some random string of letters and numbers?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The blind

          "Back when I was still on dialup I'd regularly load a site without graphics for speed. I think I might try that with the reg and see what that happens."

          You could try El Reg's mobile site, which is relatively graphics-free.

          Unfortunately it is also relatively lacking functionality.

          Not good.

          So, here at El Reg and also in too many other places, the increasing numbers of folk accessing the Web using today's performance equivalent of dialup (mobile access via 3G or GSM) get a choice between a ridiculous wait as an unnecessarily graphics-heavy site struggles to load, or a restricted functionality site which loads a little bit more quickly because much of the unnecessary fluff has been removed. But along with the unnecessary fluff, useful functionality went away too.

          How hard can it be, folks?

          1. moiety

            Re: The blind

            Surprisingly difficult. To start with you have a wide variety of screen sizes that need to be coped with. Add to that the fact that most of the action these days is with Wordpress and that builds in constraints. Then it has to look shiny and contemporary (and every other bugger is loading their sites up with huge flashing graphics so you have to play along to a certain extent). Then you have to take the (sometimes actually possible) demands of the client into account; which usually -and you can trust me on this- is heavily skewed towards the flashiest loudest web-toys possible; and fuck the filesize because they have broadband.

            Finally you have to bring the whole thing in on time and within budget.

            What all the above means is that every website is a series of compromises. To actually make a site that is 100% suitable for everyone you'd need to build at least 3 separate sites with a complicated detection and switching system; and people just don't want to pay for that. It's very much a "make most of the people happy most of the time" game.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The blind

              " it has to look shiny and contemporary (and every other bugger is loading their sites up with huge flashing graphics so you have to play along to a certain extent). "

              Says who?

              Classic example of this ridiculous "presentation before functionality" stupidity is the Met Office website.

              The old one is still around at the moment. You can find the old rainfall radar map at

              http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/uk/radar/index.html

              It's a map, so it's inherently going to have some graphics. That's OK. It's a map so screen readers don't really apply. But magnification tools should work, as it's text and images, nothing too flash, and the stupid Flash adverts are relatively easily blocked. The "explore the Met Office" clutter down the bottom adds negligible value to the page but does add unnecessary data and delay.

              That page also continues a link to it's "new improved" successor, which does try to be seriously hip and trendy, and (imo) in doing so completely loses the plot, in terms of the extra amount of data it requires to deliver the same functionality, and in terms of the unnecessary complexity it introduces.

              What kind of people are going to be most interested in what the weather's going to do in the next hour or two (which is what the radar tells you)? People out and about, maybe others. People out and about don't have megabit downloads, they have 3G if they're lucky (and probably smallish screens too).

              Follow the link and see if you agree.

              Same goes for the Met Office's forecast maps, but since the forecasts are largely for entertainment only much of the time apart from when the weather is so stable the forecast is obvious, that's not so pressing.

              I don't see how the new-fangled Met Office site is good for anyone except desk-bound Met Office managers on high speed links, who think that "shiny == good".

              1. moiety

                Re: The blind

                " it has to look shiny and contemporary (and every other bugger is loading their sites up with huge flashing graphics so you have to play along to a certain extent). "

                Says who?

                Says the client, usually. The sad fact is that it's currently fashionable to spray unnecessary crap all over the place. And if the site you come up with has less shiny, spinny flashy bits than their competitor's then you just get sent back to redo it. Which takes time and therefore cuts into profit. Plus there's only so much dead horse you can flog before giving up.

                With your Met office example I don't really like either presentation...the rainfall should be in a contrasting colour so it's immediately obvious which bit is rainfall and which bit is the edge of the UK. It took me a while to work it out; mostly because right now there's only a bit of rain over Anglesea and it's easily mistaken for borderline.

                Of the two, I prefer the new one....possibly I'm the wrong person to ask because I fucking LOVE satellite images. The rainfall map is a little clearer on the new version. But then; I'm sat here in front of broadband and only hit the net over wifi; so am not the typical consumer.

    2. Getriebe
      Thumb Up

      Re: The blind

      This lists all of the tested requirements for people who have all sorts of visual impairments

      http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/webaccessibility/designbuild/Pages/design_build.aspx

      I had the benefit and indeed hnour of working with someone from RNIB on a computer project - that taught me a lot which stays with me.

    3. RegW
      Thumb Up

      Re: The blind

      > How do you accommodate people with severe physical handicaps?

      http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php

  13. JLV Silver badge

    serendipity of sorts

    The Economist just had an article about product design specialist agencies being solicited to, among other things, redesign the business processes that NGOs and governments use with their "clients".

    http://www.economist.com/news/business/21580444-design-companies-are-applying-their-skills-voluntary-and-public-sectors-back

    It is an interesting article in general, but one paragraph that struck with me is that one of agencies talked about, IDEO, prefers to engage with outliers, people who are unusual in their use of a product. People who constantly mess up using something or who use it way more than normal users. That's because more insight can be derived from analyzing their user experience.

    Not exactly what Trevor was saying, but another good reason to not value metrics to the exclusion of everything else. By definition, metrics _would_ ignore outliers.

    Still, metrics in software seem hugely useful. I would guess especially if you identify that some aspects of your software are unexpectedly difficult to use and redesign those.

    Oh, and the Sony dislike? Totally with it, for the same reasons. Though I do have a PS3, both because I got it for BluRay and dislike MS more. It takes a looong time to recover folks' trust after you've built up sufficient negativity on your brand.

  14. Rob 5

    32 comments and not one reference to The Prisoner?

    I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!

    I am not a number! I am a free man!

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: 32 comments and not one reference to The Prisoner?

      Oh come now, I thought the title of the piece was an adequate reference, no?

      1. Rob 5
        Thumb Up

        Re: 32 comments and not one reference to The Prisoner?

        Oh, you nailed it - I was commenting more on the failure of the commentariat to pick up on the reference.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 32 comments and not one reference to The Prisoner?

      "indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered"

      Don't mind being debriefed occasionally !

  15. anatak

    testing your own products

    I can't help feeling that most companies don't test any of their products seriously.

    I recently bought a car. After 1 hour there were already things getting on my nerves as in What where the designers / engineers thinking?' It also has a nice software bug with the interval on the windscreen wipers. In forums I see regularly 'disconnect battery' to solve electronics problems. I feel like I am driving a windows car. Did you try turning it off and on again ?

  16. moiety

    I had a thought, forming in my 'ead...

    With Windows 8 in particular; the edge cases might be considerably more numerous than the numbers might suggest...the very same people who have been using windows for a long time and/or in a professional capacity are ALSO the least likely group to be letting their machines give back any metric data at all.

    I remember an article here in El Reg about microsoft going on about which percentage of users used which interface and remember thinking to myself "How do they know that?....Oh!" If the machines are reporting back to the mothership I, for one, would stop it happening as soon as I became aware of it.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: I had a thought, forming in my 'ead...

      Agreed. I, for one, disable CEIP on all machines. Track me not...bitch.

      1. moiety

        Re: I had a thought, forming in my 'ead...

        Yeah, but it goes deeper than that. I don't really do computer repair work these days; but I do make an exception for friends. My install disk has all of that unnecessary crap (including CEIP) stripped out; and there's probably 30-40 machines hereabouts that are formatted by me; and I'm on the very, very low end of the spectrum. The local repair shop guy also uses a (different, but also without CEIP and similar) stripped-down racing windows install; and he must have fiddled with half the machines in town by now.

        So that's a LOT of machines that aren't feeding information back. The only machines that are feeding information back are -to put it in cruel, cynical, BOFH terms- from the clueless[1] end of the spectrum. If fact, letting shit like that live on your machine; using mips and bandwidth for the sole benefit of someone else is one definition of clueless. Maybe in light of that Microsoft's recent decisions aren't quite so surprising because the people they really need to be listening to (the ones who affect buying decisions for the people around them) are invisible to their metrics. So if they are doing things based on their metrics data then they're looking at a very skewed picture of what's actually going on.

        [1] By clueless; I mean clueless in IT terms. There are reasons not to poke around in the settings of a new computer (fear; lack of confidence/knowledge/time, just can't be bothered, don't appreciate just how *important* haemorrhaging data can turn out to be etc.). I don't mean that everyone feeding metrics data back needs an indoor helmet; just that they are not fully up to speed with IT. I'd be surprised if El Reg forum denizens were leaking much though...

  17. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    The first

    thing that should be driven into any aspiring designer is

    KISS Keep it simple stupid.

    The majority of users are not uber geeks , they are normal people and you have to design accordingly

    My pc to robot comms software shows that.. it has a row of buttons that set the software to talk to a particular robot and send and recieve buttons to upload/download control programs to the robot in question.

    Because thats all thats needed for the users... they dont want to be bothered with command line fluff, or which menu you have to drill down through to get a setting, or even a search box to look for stuff.

    Press the button marked robot#2, press send and type the filename into the box and press ok.

    If I worked the m$ way and came up with a new version, the first thing to do would be swap the robot choice buttons to a hidden menu, put the search box in the middle of the screen and hide the send/recieve function in a menu somewhere, then sit back and listen to the complaints.... before finding out I did'nt have a captive market and wondered why sales have plunged through the floor.

    Keep the damned software simple to use because 90% of your users will only use 10% of the software functions

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: The first

      Boris,

      You forgot one key part of the Microsoft Way.

      You make absolutely sure that any pre-existing controls the user has that allows them to change things back to anything remotely like how they want them are carefully removed.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: The first

      > they dont want to be bothered with command line fluff

      That's exactly the WRONG thinking right there.

      That "command line fluff" is the toolbox that you actually need when it turns out the designer, in his godlike retardationforesightedness, was unsuprisingly unable to COPE WITH ALL EDGE CASES using his "row of buttons". Utter failure ensues. And there is no escape. YOUR PRODUCT FLIES OUT OF THE WINDOW.

      Get. it?

      "Press the button marked robot#2, press send and type the filename into the box and press ok."

      ERROR. DRIVE C²:\ CANNOT BE ACCESSED. ILLEGAL CHARACTER. ABORT RETRY FAIL?

      BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP!

      1. Robert Forsyth

        Re: The first

        @D A M

        I marked you down, but now see your point, but you still make the mistake of rubbishing something without providing an improvement or in the spirit of this article how the old way was better?

        @Boris

        Your design has good and bad:

        It is good that you can quickly access a particular robot without setting Baud-rates, colour of the button, etc., but your file dialogue seems worse than search. I expect your users have post-it notes stuck to their screen saying which robot has which program.

        And why can I not just select a robot program and send it to a preview then, if correct, send it to a robot?

        The people designing the program should make as many decisions as possible for the user, then when a hard choice cannot be made, provide a sensible default and remember what the user selected last time. But nothing stops the designer/programmer providing two or more presentations of the same service.

  18. Denarius
    Thumb Up

    in praise of old kit

    Trevor, well written and thought out. I also applaud my fellow commentards for the quality of discussion on this topic. Fully concur with comments that change should be an improvement. In big corporations change seemed to be inflicted so some remote PHB could say they shook something up.

    Perhaps it reflects age or stubbornness, but I still use command line where possible. Unix find lets me find things if I need to. POSIX file system layout lets me store things in a hiearchial manner so I dont have to run find often. Still use a classic style desktop (KDE) (old stable) where graphics needed and no, plasma sucks, especially the weather tool which I look at frequently. Not dissimilar to better Windows days, or saner XWindows implementations, so work and home are not disjoint to use. Documents are written in vi because it does what its told. No autospell stuffups, no weird auto formatting and plain text is easy to search and do global edits on. Once written and spell checked, then it goes to some page formatting GUI based word mangler if necessary. The command line and vi editor have been extended, but have the same basics for over 40 years, so I did not have to learn a new set of commands. Resultant source documents are very portable. Even work in Windows. All this meant I could get on doing the job I was paid for, not wasting time unlearning and relearning, often for no gain in job performance. I think the last 5 years has seen an increase in user hostility in software user interfaces.

  19. Terry 6 Silver badge

    collect the data and analyse it.......

    It's all about how you interpret the data.

    The problems don't arise with data. Or even the ordinary designers.

    It's when someone with authority has already made a decision about how he wants things to go, and looks for support in the data.

    As in.... people do lots of searches for alternatives to the start menu,:

    Which may mean either

    "we need to improve the start menu" or

    "we need to get rid of the start menu"

    I work in education. And education research is bedevilled by this.

    Have a pet idea? Have the authority or political clout to make it stick? Just sponsor a small, unscientific "study" or two that actively looks for data that appears to support what you want to find, then you can produce the "evidence" that it's the best thing since God made apples, and Bob's your mum's brother.

  20. Mr Young
    Pint

    Well said Trevor

    I tried to comment and gave up - see icon

  21. IT Hack

    Lies. Damn lies. Statistics.

  22. Brennan Young
    Thumb Up

    Yes! More 'design' issues please

    Really good article.

    Re-read it today and will now share it with my design students. I'm realising that Mr. Potts has one of the Reg's most reputable bylines. Keep it coming.

  23. Thorfkin

    When I think, I visualize everything in the form of abstract diagrams and imagery. It has always been a challenge for me to express linguistically what seems so clear in my mind's eye. When it comes to using computers, my experience has been similar to yours. I remember everything by association. When I want to run an app, I visualize in my mind the app itself, followed by the hierarchy of start menu folders that lead to running said app, like a map. I rarely visualize the name of the app. I remember an apps hierarchical position, shape, and color more easily than the name of the app itself. Because of the way my mind works, I NEVER use search as a means of navigation on my local machine. I find the whole search experience to be exasperatingly imprecise. I.E. If I have to reach for my keyboard to run an app then the interface design is piss-poor as far as I'm concerned.

    I think these things might be part of why I don't like Windows 8's new start screen much. Sure it looks cool but they've damaged an operating mechanic that has worked so well for me in the past. They've made searching an integral part of the start screen's usage scenario and I detest having to reach for my keyboard when all I want to do is run Calc or Defrag.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      I am looking for application "UltraVNC Viewer". I type in: "VNC". Result: "No Results Found".

      I am looking for application "LibreOffice Writer". I type in: "Word". Result: "No Results Found".

      I am looking for application "LIbreOffice Writer". I type in: "Wordperfect". Result: "No Results Found".

      I am looking for application "$any_web_browser". I type in: "Google". Result: "No Results Found".

      I am looking for application "Windows Live Messenger". I type in: "MSN". Result: "No Results Found".

      I am looking for application "The Gimp". I type in: "Photoshop". Result: "No Results Found".

      I am looking for application "Path of Exile". I type in: "Diablo". Result: "No Results Found".

      All are fairly common issues where either a subcomponent of a name is not properly brought up in search, a common competitor item is not brought up when the "genericised" name is typed in, a rebranding has occurred or I search for an application category instead of the application name.

      Search as the primary user interface not only makes remembering things far more important than it was previously it makes not being "on message" with the latest greatest branding an outright thoughtcrime!

      How can you find a competitor's software if the gateway to the interface is a search application that doesn't give equal time to all installed applications of the same category? I think it's far worse than Google's "Google Maps" fiasco. At least Mapquest and Bing Maps showed up in search at some point in the list. Unless you know exactly what you're looking for, the apps installed won't show up in Windows Search.

      I wonder what % of the population knows the exact name of the applications installed?

  24. Ant Evans

    Design by numbers

    Design by numbers is pernicious if it is used as a design shortcut.

    If you put a city kid in a forest, they won't understand what they're looking at, no matter how good they are at counting trees.

    To design something good, you need to be of the forest, not just in the forest.

    That isn't difficult, it just takes time. It *begins* with becoming a user for a while, understanding what people actually do.

    You will spend the time one way or another. The only shortcut is to mediocrity.

  25. ecofeco Silver badge

    You're neither data nor a human

    To them, all you are is an annoying impediment between the company and your wallet.

  26. Levente Szileszky

    Huh, 80 IPs at home...?

    "My home network might only have 80 or so devices with IP addresses."

    What on Earth are you running in your house, Trevor? Or these are all virtualized hosts, powered up only when needed?

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Huh, 80 IPs at home...?

      I submitted an article that covers most of that...I imagine it will get published at some point or another...

  27. dz-015

    Interesting to understand why you prefer GUIs, but it might have been helpful to explain that back when the GUI vs CLI arguments were occurring on here, rather than just getting defensive about it for no apparent logical reason.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      The argument today isn't about GUI versus CLI. It's about GUI versus TUI. You might want to pay attention to the world before you say stupid things for no apparent logical reason.

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