Data Journalism Readings: Week 5

The Design Challenge

To summarize, the chapter talks about everything a good designer must keep in mind when creating a product. He points out that designers must not count themselves as average users because they become to vested in their products and lose the ‘innocence’ that is required for fresh testing.Some of these principles seem pretty obvious (simplicity and intuitiveness of function) but there were plenty that weren’t so simple.

For one, there is the problem of ‘creeping featureism’, a concept that initially doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. Most designers are eager to make a product that is all things to everyone, but Norman warns us of falling into this trap. He argues that every feature added increases the complexity of the product and compromises its usability. This will be the case even if the added feature is for the user’s benefit and indeed demanded by them. While it seems that more features means more value for the product, in the end we as designers really have to evaluate if our users know what’s best for them.

I constantly thought of Apple while reading this piece. Steve Jobs definitely implemented many of Norman’s rules for good design, much more than say Microsoft with Windows. However, I thought of many instances when Apple had ignored those principles. As we progressed through the readings, Norman dealt with some of those designs directly.

He complained about the design of the mouse, with it’s limited usability. He felt that in this case, Apple’s quest for simplicity and aesthetic appeal compromised the functionality of its product. However, what he didn’t recognize is that Apple is the kind of company that has the clout to make users adapt to it and not the other way around.

A great example of this is Apple’s refusal to create a platform that supported Flash for its iPad. No explanation offered, they just deemed it unnecessary and stood strong in the face of initial criticism. Slowly, the programmers and users had no choice but to embrace this design and this resulted in Flash being rendered obsolete.

It would be interesting to see what Norman would have to say about this era where the consumer’s demand is often dictated to them rather than the other way round. This is especially surprising in an age where consumers are so much more tech-savvy and sophisticated.

HCI Representation versus Control

In this piece, the author argues that the current  Human Computer Interface that we are becoming accustomed to may be evolving very quickly. This is necessary as he feels that interfaces have far too long mimicked everyday physical objects, depending on the era we’re in. For example, the ‘desktop’ presentation of our operating systems or our  use of icons (such as the magnifying glass to zoom).

The author feels that these principles conflict when it comes to ‘cultural’ interfaces. There is a struggle between trying to achieve consistency and trying to achieve originality. This is why we see most programs or websites have the same functions in their interfaces but different designs unique to them.

This sort of interface design will evolve because it is only a single ‘historical possibility’ and we may soon see simple or even completely divergent HCI’s since this is only the early period of a new ‘cultural metalanguage’.

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