Friday, 23 August 2013


My early attitude towards user-friendliness was a kind of elitism, at least in part influenced by the movie Hackers. We'll skip over the argument about computer realism in Hollywood and go for some examples of what I mean. I learned to touch-type at school, and the first time I got my own computer keyboard that I didn't have to share with Dad or my brother, I covered the keys in stickers to obscure the letters. If you can't touch-type, was the not-so-subtle message, then get out. I carefully replaced the indicators on my multi-colour pen that I used at university so that all the buttons were black but it retained all four individual colours of ink. Learn the arrangement or get out. I used to say "destroy user-friendliness" when I did things like this, and at the time I believed that it was to educate people and force them to learn, but didn't provide any path for that learning.

I was big on insider knowledge. It was fun, because it made me feel powerful. I know things that you don't. I had to force it, but I did it, because I wanted to be powerful and that was the quickest, easiest way to demonstrate power. In that sense, it was kind of a bully thing, albeit intellectual bullying.

Now that I've been out of university for some time, and I've worked with real software users, my attitude is completely the opposite. If you can't use the software or hardware without first taking a course, studying a manual and practicing for several days (or weeks, months, years) then that piece of technology is broken, and people like me need to fix it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can take user-friendliness too far.
PPS - Usually, however, it's not taken far enough.

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