Thursday, May 08, 2003

Computers make people feel stupid

Unfortunately, computers themselves present one of the greatest obstacles to the use of the Internet for many people. They can be useful tools, but overall, computers are frustrating, rude, and poorly designed.

I get in trouble for saying this kind of thing. Some people think I'm out of my mind, as I'm supposed to be a heavy-duty computer guy. The fact is, I have a long-term, love-hate, ambivalent relationship with computers. I think people have so much trouble with information-technology products because they are designed by people who love machines rather than people who love people.

Web sites themselves can be frustrating and hard-to-use. And because people access Web sites through computers, the sites themselves inherit some of the interaction problems of the technologies that are used to reach them. So this multiplies the problem.

Web sites (as well as software and other products) can become a real tool for business and marketing when they are created through a process of interaction design that results in a product that is respectful to the user and helps that person meet his or her goals. (Much of my thinking in this area is derived from the work of Alan Cooper of Cooper Design and Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering, as well as from my own work in the area of human-computer interaction.)

A well-designed Web site or software product helps the user meet goals -- not just operational goals ('I want to find x piece of information') but also personal goals ('I want to feel helped, and I don't want to feel stupid').

Al Bredenberg
Keene, NH


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