Design of Everyday Things_9

Design of Everyday Things_9 - electronic keyboards and...

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Unformatted text preview: electronic keyboards and computers. Even the style of typing has changed. In the early years, people kept their eyes on the keyboard and typed with one or two fingers of each hand. Then one courageous person, Frank McGurrin of Salt Lake City, memorized the key locations and learned to type with all’ his fingers, without looking at the key- board. His skills were not recognized at first; it took a national contest held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1877 to prove that this method was indeed superior.5 In the end, the qwerty keyboard was adopted throughout the world with but minor variations. We are committed to it, even though it was designed to satisfy constraints that no longer apply, was based on a style of typing no longer used, and is difficult to learn. Tinkering with keyboard design is a popular pastime (figure 6.2). Some schemes keep the existing mechanical layout of the keys, but arrange the assignments of letters more efficiently. Others improve the physical layout as well, arranging the keys to accommodate the mirror- irnage symmetry of the hands and the varied spacing and agility of the fingers. Still others reduce the number of keys dramatically by having patterns of keys—chords—represent the letters, permitting one- handed or faster two-handed typing. But none of these innovations takes hold because the qwerty keyboard, while deficient, is good enough. Although its antijamming arrangement no longer has mechan- ical justification, it does put many common letter pairs on opposing hands; one hand can be getting ready to type its letter while the other is finishing, so typing is speeded up. What about alphabetical keyboards (figure 6.3)? Wouldn’t they at least these be easier to learn? Nope.‘5 Because the letters have to be laid out in rows, just knowing the alphabet isn’t enough. You also have to know where the rows break. Even if you could learn that, it would still be easier to scan the keyboard than to compute where a key might be. Then you are better off if common letters are located where you are apt to find them by scanning—a property that the qwerty keyboard pro- vides. If you don’t know any keyboard, there is little difference in typing speed among a qwerty keyboard, an alphabetic keyboard, and even a random arrangement of keys. If you know even a little of the qwerty, that is enough to make it better than the others. And for expert typists, the alphabetical arrangements are always slower than qwerty. There is a better way—the Dvorak keyboard—painstakingly devel- oped by ’(and named after) one of the founders of industrial engineer- ing. It is easier to learn and allows for about 10 percent faster typing, but that is simply not enough of an improvement to merit a revolution 51x.- 771e Design Challenge 147 manuanunnnn Iflflflflllllllfll- flflflflflmIII- ,f’r fifdfiffi? 131 ?W&? C . IIBEIEBIEDDII flflflflflflflflflflflfl -IIIIEIIEIIIEIIEII- -IlflfllllllflflIII- Diogonallg Alphabetic D BEBEBIEDDII A Random Keyboard Ilfllllflmflflflflllllll -Elllflllllllflllllfll- flflflflflflHIII- 6.2 Typewriter Keyboards. The standard American layout of keys —the Sholes or qwerty keyboard. “The American Simplified Keyboard (often called ASK), a simplified version of the original Dvorak keyboard; on the original, the numerals and punctuation keys are arranged differently. Most alphabetically organized key- boards arrange the alphabet along hori- zontal rows, as shown (and in the keyboards of figure 6.3). This alphabetical arrangement is supe- rior, however: with its diagonal ar- rangement, letters increase system- atically up the alphabet from left to right without major breaks. The keyboard at left has randomly ar— ranged letters. Beginners succeed about the same on all these keyboards: alphabetical works barely better than random. For experts, ASK is best, followed by qwerty: alpha- betical keyboards are quite inferior. Moral: Don’t bother with alphabetical keyboards. 6. 3 Products with Alphabetical Keyboards. Even though several experiments show that these are of no use to novices and detrimental to experts, every year designers plunge ahead and foist yet another alphabetical keyboard on us Even if you manage to learn one, you will not have learned to use all the different ones. SIX: The Desi_ in the keyboard. Millions of people would have to learn a new style of typing. Millions of typewriters would have to be changed. The severe constraints of existing practice prevent change, even where the change would be an improvement? Couldn’t we at least do better with two hands at once? Yes, we could. Court stenographers can outtype anyone else. They use chord keyboards, typing syllables directly onto the page—syllables, not let— ters. Chord keyboards have very few keys—as few as five or six, but usually ten to fifteen. Many chord keyboards allow you to type single letters or whole words with one depression of the hand on several keys. If you use all ten fingers at the same time, then there are 1,023 possible combinations. That is enough for all the letters and numbers, lower case and upper case, plus a lot of words—if only you can learn the patterns. Chord keyboards have a horrible disadvantage: they are very hard to learn and very hard to retain; all the knowledge has to be in the head. Walk up to any regular keyboard and you can use it right away. lust search for the letter you want and push the key. With a chord keyboard, you have to press several keys simultaneously. There is no way to label the keys properly and no way to know what to do just by looking. Some chord keyboards are incredibly clever and re- markably easy to learn, considering. I tried to learn one of the easier ones. Thirty minutes' practice, and I knew the alphabet. But if I didn’t use the keyboard for a week, I forgot the chords. The gain did not seem worth the effort. What about one-handed chord keyboards? Wouldn’t it be worth a lot of time and effort to be able to type with one hand? Perhaps, if you are flying a jet aircraft with one hand and need to enter data into your computer with the other. But not for the rest of us.’ All this brings up an important lesson in design. Once a satisfactory product has been achieved, further change may be counterproductive, especially if the product is successful. You have to know when to stop. You can observe the design iterations and experiments with the computer keyboard. The layout of the basic keyboard is now standard- ized through intematr'onal agreement. But computer keyboards need extra keys, and these are not standardized. Some keyboards have an extra key between the shift key and the ”z”key. The return key takes on difierent shapes and locations. The special keys of the computer key- board—for example, control, escape, break, delete (not to be confused with backspace), and the ”arrow” or cursor control keys—varyin loca- tion with the phases of the year; varying even among the products of a single manufacturer. Much confusion and strong emotions result. 150 The Design of Everyday Things Note, too, that the computer allows for flexible letter arrangements. It is a simple matter on some computers to switch the interpretation of the keys from qwerty to Dvorak: one command and the change is done. But unless the Dvorak fan also pries 06‘ and rearranges the keycaps, the Dvorak fan has to ignore the labels on the keys and rely on memory. Someday key labeling will be done by electronic displays on each key, so changing the labels will also become trivial. 50 computer technology may liberate users from forced standardization. Everyone could select the keyboard of personal choice. Why Designers Go Astray ”[Frank Lloyd] Wright evidently wasn ’t very sympathetic about complaints. When Herbert F. Johnson, the late president of S. C john- son, Inc., in Racine, Ms, called Wright to say that his roof was leaking all over a dinner guest, the architect is said to ha ve responded, ’Tell him to move his chair.’ ”9 If everyday design were ruled by aesthetics, life might be more pleasing to the eye but less comfortable; if ruled by usability, it might be more comfortable but uglier. If cost or ease of manufacture domi- nated, products might not be attractive, functional, or durable. Clearly, each consideration has its place. Trouble occurs when one dominates all'the others. Designers go astray for several reasons. First, the reward structure of the design community tends to put aesthetics first. Design collec- tions feature prize-winning clocks that are unreadable, alarms that cannot easily be set, can openers that mystify. Second, designers are not typical users. They become so expert in using the object they have designed that they cannot believe that anyone else might have prob- lems; only interaction and testing with actual users throughout the design process can forestall that. Third, designers must please their clients, and the clients may not be the users. PUTTING AESTHETICS FIRST "It probably won a prize" is a disparaging phrase in this book. Why? Because prizes tend to be given for some aspects of a design, to the srx: The Design Challenge 151 neglect of all others—usually including usability. Consider the follow- ing example, in which a usable, livable design was penalized by the design profession. The assignment was to design the Seattle offices of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The most noteworthy fea- ture of the design process was that those who would work in the building had a major say in the planning. One of the members of the design team, Robert Sommer, describes the process as follows: ”Architect Sam Sloan coordinated a project in which employees . . . were able to select their own office furniture and plan ofl‘ice layout. This represented a major departure from prevailing practices in the federal services where such matters were decided by those in authority. Since both the Seattle and Los Angeles branches of the FAA were scheduled to move into new buildings at about the same time, the client for the project, the General Services Administration, agreed with archi- tect Sloan’s proposal to involve employees in the design process in Seattle, while leaving the Los Angeles office as a control condition where traditional methods of space planning would be followed. ”1° So there really were two designs: one in Seattle, with heavy participa- tion by the users, and one in Los Angeles, designed in the conventional manner by architects. Which design do the users prefer? Why the Seattle one, of course. Which one got the award? Why the Los Angeles one, of course. Here is Sommer’s description of the outcome: ”Several months following the move in to the new buildings, surveys by the research team were made in Los Angeles and Seattle. The Seattle workers were more satisfied with their building and work areas than were the Los Angeles employees. . . . It is noteworthy that the Los Angeles building has been given repeated awards by the American Institute of Architects while the Seattle building received no recogni— tion. One member of the AIA jury justified his denial of an award to the Seattle building on the basis of its ’residential quality’ and ’lack of discipline and control of the interiors, ’ which was what the employees liked the most about it. This reflects the well-documented differences in preferences between architects and occupants. . . . The director of the Seattle olfice admitted that many visitors were surprised that this is a federal facility. Employees in both locations rated their satisfaction with their job performance before and after the move into the new building. There was no change in the Los Angeles oh‘ice and a 7 percent improvement in rated job performance in the Seattle office. ”11 152 The Design of Everyday Things Aesthetics, not surprisingly, comes first at museums and design cen- ters. I have spent much time in the science museum of my own city, San Diego, watching visitors try out the displays. The visitors try hard, and although they seem to enjoy themselves, it is quite clear that they usually miss the point of the display. The signs are highly decorative; but they are often poorly lit, difficult to read, and have lots of gushing language with little explanation. Certainly the visitors are not enlight- ened about science (which is supposed to be the point of the exhibit). Occasionally I help out when I see bewildered faces by explaining the scientific principles being demonstrated by the exhibit (after all, many of the exhibits in this sort of museum are really psychology demonstra- tions, many of which I explain in my own introductory classes). I am often rewarded with smiles and nods of understanding. I took one of my graduate classes there to observe and comment; we all agreed about the inadequacy of the signs, and, moreover, we had useful suggestions. We met with a museum official and tried to explain what was happen- ing. He didn’t understand. His problems were the cost and durability of the exhibits. ”Are the visitors learning anything?” we asked. He still didn’t understand. Attendance at the museum was high. It looked attractive. It had probably won a prize. Why were we wasting his time? Many museums and design centers make prime examples of pretty displays and signs coupled with illegible and uninformative labels. Mostly, I suspect, it’s because these buildings are judged as places of art, where the exhibits are meant to be admired, not to be learned from. I made several trips to the Design Centre in London to collect material for this book. I hoped it would have a good library and bookshop (it did) and good exhibits, demonstrating the proper principles for com- bining aesthetics, economics, usability, and manufacturability. I found the London Design Centre itself to be an exercise in poor design. Take the cafeteria: just about impossible to use. Behind the counter, the four workers continually get in each other’s way. The layout of the back- counter facilities seems without structure or function. Food is carefully heated for the customer, but it gets cold by the time the customer gets through the line. The cafeteria has tiny round tables, which are also too high. There are elegant round stools to sit on. The set up is impossible to use if you are elderly or young or have your hands full of packages. Of course, the design may have been a deliberate attempt to discourage use of the cafeteria. Consider this scenario. The cafeteria is well designed, with spacious tables and comfortable chairs. But it then becomes too popular, interfering with the true pur- srx: The Design Challenge 153 pose of the Desigi Centre, which is to encourage good design among British manufacturers. The popularity of the Centre and its cafeteria to tourists is unexpected. The Design Centre decides to discourage people from using the cafeteria. They take out the original tables and chairs and replace them with dysfunctional, uncomfortable ones, all in the name of good design-the goal in this case being to discourage people from using the cafeteria and lingering. Actually, restaurants often in- stall uncomfortable chairs for just this reason. Fast-food places often have no chairs or tables. 50 my complaints provide evidence that the design criteria were met, that the design was successful. 12 In London I visited the Boilerworks, a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, to look at a special exhibit called "natural design.” The exhibit itself was one of the best examples of unnatural design I have ever witnessed. Pretty, tasteful signs near each display. Dramatically striking layout of the objects. But you couldn't tell which sign went with which exhibit, or what the text meant. Alas, this seems typical of museums. A major part of the design process ought to be the study of just how the objects being designed are to be used. In the case of the cafeteria at the London Design Centre, the designers should imagine a crowd of people in line, imagine where the line will start and end, and study what effect the line will have on the rest of the museum. Study the work patterns of the cafeteria employees: consider them responding to customer requests. Where will they have to move? What objects will they have to reach? If there are several employees, will they get in each other’s way? And then consider the customers. Grandparents with heavy coats, umbrellas, packages, and perhaps three small children— how will they pay for their purchases? Is there a place for them to put down their packages so they can open their wallets or purses and get out their money? Can this be done in a way that minimizes the disrup- tion for the next people in line and improves the speed and efficiency of the cashier? And finally, consider the customers at the tables. Strug- gling to get up on a high stool to eat off a tiny table. And don’t just imagine: go out and look at the current design, or at other cafeterias. Interview potential customers, interview the cafeteria employees. In the case of science museums, studies have to be made on people who are the same as the intended audience. The designers and em- ployees already know too much: they can no longer put themselves into the role of the viewer. 154 The Design of Everyday Things Let me be positive for a change: there are science museums and exhibits that work well. The science museums in Boston and in Toronto, the Monterey Aquarium, the Exploraton'um in San Francisco. There are probably many others that I “do not know about. Consider the Exploraton’um. It is dark and grungy on the outside, located in a remodeled, left-over building. Very little is devoted to sleekness or aesthetics. The emphasis is on using and understanding the exhibits. The staff is interested in explaining things. It is possible to do things fight. just don’t let the focus on cost, or durability, or aesthetics destroy the major point of the museum: to be used, to be understood. Yhe problem of focus, I call this. DESIGNERS ARE NOT TYPICAL USERS Designers often think of themselves as typical users. After all, they are people too, and they are often users of their own designs. Why don’t they notice, why don’t they have the same problems as the rest of us? The designers l have spoken with are thoughtful, concerned people. They do want to do things properly. Why, then, are so many failing? All of us develop an everyday psychology—professionals call it ”folk psychology” or, sometimes, ”naive psychology”—and it can be as erroneous and misleading as the naive physics that we examined in chapter 2. Worse, actually. As human beings, we have access to our conscious thoughts and beliefs but not to our subconscious ones. Con- scious thoughts are often rationalizations of behavior, explanations after the fact. We tend to project our own rationalizations and beliefs onto the actions and beliefs of others. But the professional should be able to realize that human belief and behavior are complex and that the individual is in no position to discover all the relevant factors. There is no substitute for interaction with and study of actual users of a proposed design. 1 5 "Steve Wozniak, the whiz-kid co-founder of Apple Computer offered the first public glimpse of CORE, his latest brainchild. ”CORE, which stands for controller of remote electronics, is a single device that allows consumers to fully operate their home equipment by remote control as long as the equipment is all in one room. . . . 51X: The Desig'i Challenge 155 "CORE comes with a 4o-page user manual. But Wozniak says users of his gizmo . . . won’t be daunted because, initially, most will be ’techies.’ ”13 There is a big difference between the expertise required to be a designer and that required to be a user. In their work, designers often become expert with the device they are designing. Users are often expert at the task they are trying to perform with the device.“ Steve Wozniak designs a device to help people like himself, people who complain that their house is cluttered with too many remote control devices for their ...
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