Making Technology Easier to Use is The Future

by Alex Duncan  |  March 22, 2009 – 2:45 am


When I first began making websites in 2002, although I didn’t know it at the time, I set out with an approach to make things clear and useable. While many other people building websites at the time set out with an objective to use the latest javascript/gif/html/css effect I always spent far longer designing little icons or pictures that I felt were clear and gave an accurate impression of what lay at the other side of the links they guarded. I remember once at university spending ages designing a ball for each sport my college played so that team members could click on their respective ball to get to the results at the other end.

Some where in my development as a web designer/programmer I got lost, fascinated by the charms and abilities of PHP and ajax, desperate to iron out those IE.X CSS bugs. I had lost my way, forgetting what ultimate purpose of anything I put on the web was, which I believe is to be used. We can argue and split hairs about that purpose ad infinitum, but it is undeniable that a lack of usability or human centric design is one of the biggest barriers to the use of technology. We have processors crunching away, churning through millions of bits and bytes and yet half of the time people stand there unable to efficiently use the machines in front of them. Somehow until quite recently I’ve managed to forget this.

I work in a young and growing company we use a huge mix of technological tools from the usual Microsoft Offerings to small scripts we have written ourselves in PHP to get simple tasks done. The inefficiency and confusion must cost us $000′s! As a company we have fairly unique challenges, but the extent to which we don’t leverage technology to our advantage is unbelievable. When we implement new tools we expect humans to fit around them, we put training in place of well designed user-interfaces and we are certainly not alone.

If we can take away just one extra page load, or two seconds of confusion from a user as they interact with the tools we build, then you multiply that benefit across all the users and suddenly entire days and weeks of time are freed up, thoughts and ideas which would have been missed are preserved or even enacted upon. I quite literally believe that useable interfaces to technology could help revolutionise the world.

What am I going to do with this realisation? I’m not entirely sure right now, I think there is more investigation and experimentation required to refine what I think the problems and solutions are. Most of my awakening has been related to the web, but ways humans interface with technology obviously extend way beyond this and so a lot more discovery is required.

Here are some key links which have inspired me and put me back on the right path:
Cabel Sasser obsessing about the interface design for Coda made me realise it was ok, even good to be that concerned about small details.
Wufoo has what I consider to be one of the most beautiful and functional implementations of an interface to create interfaces – truly inspiring.
John Maeda in his two TED videos, one on his journey in Design and the other on the laws of simplicity.

Conversely a couple of links which made me realise how bad interfaces can be…
OFBiz an opensource ERP system and part of the Apache foundation, designed by geeks to be used by….god knows who.
Microsoft Sharepoint, the Camel of interface design.