Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Why are tech gizmos so hard to figure out?

In the November 1, 2005 issue of USA Today, Ed Baig has a nice story on the confusion and difficulty of using so many of our technological devices. When he interviewed me for the story, I told him that this difficulty has been around for a long time. The earliest documented period of confusion is for the plow. By the year 1532, the plow had so many adjustable parts that learning to use it was very difficult. And the manual seemed to have been of no use: "It is harde to make a man understand it by Wrytnge." * I also told Baig that the early phonographs took two weeks to master. The plow story didn't make it to print, but the phonograph story did. An excellent article, just in time for World Usability Day. Hurrah! (Of course, the dancing bear on the USA Today page with the obnoxious, blaring music destroys the entire credibility of the article. But journalists have no control over the site, and there is supposed to be a wall separating editorial from advertising. Too bad, the noise makes the site unusable to me.
NOTE: quotation is from Williams, T. I., 1987. The history of invention: From stone axes to silicon chips. London: Macdonald & Co. New York: Facts on file Publications. p. 202.)