Usability in everyday devices

Usability: the property of a website, software application, or web application that relates to ease of use. Usability is commonly defined as having three core components: effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.

With the inception of the World Wide Web by Time Berners-Lee a whole new process of thinking, design, organizing and displaying information came into being. Almost instantly companies began to see the value of the web, but only after a GUI (the first was Mosaic) was created allowing a design to be applied to the information. What we know as the internet is an amazing feat; a conglomeration of individual sites tenuously linked together forming a massive network of cross-referenced information.

Computers and the applications we use every day are equally as magnificent, something that is generally taken for granted and the amount of work, design, testing and engineering that is involved is very rarely considered when one uses it every day. If the program runs and works like you want it to, then you’re happy right? But what about all of the failures, glitches, bugs and functional anomalies we tolerate at the same time? Why is it that as a consumer who pays a lot of money for the technological marvels will buy it even though we expect it to fail? I’ve talked about this before, but I continue to get smacked in the face with it. In fact, as a general rule, I am disappointed with every single electronic device I own with the exception of my iPod.

Spending my Holiday vacation with friends in family out here on the left coast has brought to bare another issue with every device I own and the time shift. I first experienced last month with daylight savings time, and I have to say that it is simply poor programming. My cell phone (Motorola Krzr), PDA (HP Mobile Media Companion 4250), and even iCal on my MacBook Pro has conveniently not adjusted the time of a recurring appointment in the calendar even though the time zone, or time has changed. If I set a reminder to occur ever day until I die at 10am, wouldn’t that hold true regardless if I am in Oregon or Pennsylvania? So my cell phone rings at 7 am for my 10 am, and my 4:30 reminds me at 1:30 in iCal. This is a bug, Now if I keep the timezone and change the time, then the times are correct? WTF? So if I change my time the wrong way, then my calendar is right, and vice-versa.

My cell phone is worse though, for this marvel of technology, and the same with my HP iPaq, I have to go in a select the date for it to automatically update. eh? So I go into the calendar on my iPaq, click the time slot and it jumps to the correct time and hit save. I don’t have to actually select the time – it knows if jacked, but you still have to do it manually.

This isn’t very helpful for someone who has to take medications at  6 different times every day, and if I actually traveled a lot both of these devices would have been tossed a long time ago. The Mac is the most disappointing though, everything else on this machine just works – it’s too bad this little bit is all wonky. I’m not ditching it, and it’s not a huge deal – but it all adds up.

As a designer I notice this sort of thing all the time, and it drives me crazy. I don’t claim to be perfect and I get emails from the wonderful folks who don’t like how my websites works from time to time. It just seems like the stuff I find and run across are all no-brainers, and I can’t be the only one who finds it to be annoying and inconvenient. Because are computers supposed to make things faster and better?

I know how much work is involved in building computers, applications, and websites – I’m no stranger to the considerations that must be addressed in order to make these projects successful and create a pleasant interface for the user, but it’s a simple fact that things could be developed better. Software companies are so tied to the 18 month release cycle that new programs and major updates are buggy and always in need of an immediate patch of some kind or another. Vista is easy to pick on, but the last version of Adobe Dreamweaver is a good example of a program that saw little advancement in the way of feature. They actually removed some, and made changes to how things are managed which make my current development process more tedious and less efficient in regards to the way I like to develop.

Microsoft did the same thing in a way with Expression Web, it doesn’t interface with Visual Studio in any appreciable way, so the fact that you have an excellent GUI for layout is kind of pointless and there is no real reason for a switch to it. Visual Studio is lousy for design, and there is no dedicated Microsoft application to interface with it to allow for a tight workflow from design to development. But then it is all about Developers, developers, developers.

For what I pay, I would simply like to be able to expect more of a product then less. I would rather be pleasantly surprised at how well something works than have to be surprised at how well it fails.

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