WebReference.com - Chapter 1 of Designing from Both Sides of the Screen, from New Riders (2/4)
Designing From Both Sides of the Screen
It's the Relationship, Stupid
Okay, let's assume you're committed to building something useful and usable. Now what? The first thing to do is realize that when you're building technology, you're not just building a tool with features. You're building something that has a relationship with its users. Your tool reacts to people; it changes what it does depending on what they do. It offers to do things for people, and even asks how they would like them done. It asks people for information so it can do its job better. Sometimes it makes mistakes and tries to explain what went wrong. Meanwhile, people learn what your technology can do and how to ask for things. They change their behavior based on the responses they get. Sometimes they are delighted with it, sometimes they become frustrated with it. Sounds like a relationship.
Okay, it's not a deep relationship, and it's definitely not an equal one. Your technology is supposed to do things for people, not the other way around. But a relationship it is, and that means that people bring to it a rich set of expectations about appropriate behavior. The more you understand those expectations, the more pleasant you can make that relationship.
A good model for the type of relationship we're talking about is the one that exists between a butler and his employer. Not that either of us has any direct experience with butlers, but we've seen enough movies to form a healthy stereotype. A movie butler is always available, and when asked to do something, he is prepared to do it, with few questions and no complaints. If there is a problem, he finds a way to fix it or work around it without bothering the employer. (Also, he has an English accent.) Since he doesn't want to disturb his employer, he rarely interrupts to suggest ways he can be helpful. Instead, he pays attention to what his employer has done in the past so that he can better anticipate what she will want in the future. Still, he doesn't go overboard in anticipating her needs because he knows it is more costly to do something the employer did not want than it is to refrain from taking the initiative. Realizing his demeanor is as important as his competence, he makes a special effort to be courteous and respectful, even when she asks for things he cannot do.
In the meantime, the employer observes what the butler can do and what he does well. She doesn't ask the butler to tell her how to make requests; that would be awkward. Picking up on his feedback, she gradually learns that she gets better results if she asks one way rather than another. Over time, if they have a good relationship, they learn to work together without noticing the interaction. They learn to collaborate.
Your goal in building technology is to teach it how to behave like a movie butler. To do that, you have to teach it how to collaborate.
Copyright Pearson Education and
Created: January 3, 2002
Revised: January 3, 2002