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The Human Factor

November 15, 2004

I’m currently reading a book by Kim Vicente called “The Human Factor” that a colleague of mine (an ergonomist) recommended to me.

I’ll post a more thorough review of it later, but I wanted to share some nuggets I found In the first chapter. This passage really resonated with the world of the web and what we, as web professionals, do:

The Wizards – the often brilliant designers of high-tech products and systems today – …tend to think that everyone knows as much about technology as they do. People who design things like playing with gadgets and figuring things out. It’s a game to them and the more they do it the easier it gets for them… And those with sophisticated technical skills are exceptionally good at discovering how complex devices work, which is why they got hired as designers in the first place.

But most of us aren’t like that. We don’t want to figure out what all of those buttons do, or why they are set up the way they are. We just want to get on with our lives or do our jobs well. When we make use of technology, we want to focus on achieving our goals, not on deciphering the technology.

…it’s very easy for them [the Wizards]to forget how the rest of the world thinks. The result is often technological systems that are technically sound and easy for other designers to use, but that bury ordinary people in a quagmire of complexity.

This is why we need to know our audience. This is why we test our designs with real people and not just our other designer friends, other bloggers, or the boss or product manager.

It isn’t just about people or just about the technology. It is about the relationship between them. That has to be our bread and butter, and what drives our web sites.

Mental note: Remember to make large print versions of quotes like this for my wall, and for distribution to future clients…

2 Responses

Comment by Amit Karmakar — Nov 16 2004 @ 5:40 am

How very true indeed!

Comment by Dey Alexander — Dec 09 2004 @ 6:29 am

Hi Derek,

I’ve been pushing this book at Monash Uni where I work, especially in management circles.

It’s a great read, explains at a macro level what usability/human factors folk do (or try to do), and I just love all the stories.

I collected a few quotations along the way too, he sums things up so well!