WebReference.com - Chapter 1 of Designing from Both Sides of the Screen, from New Riders (3/4) | WebReference

WebReference.com - Chapter 1 of Designing from Both Sides of the Screen, from New Riders (3/4)

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Designing From Both Sides of the Screen

How to Collaborate

All social activities have certain conventions for appropriate behavior. When we have a conversation, dance, play in a band, drive, build a house, share a meal, and so on, we follow conventions. Usually they are unspoken, and sometimes they are arbitrary, but they let you know what you can expect of others so you can work together more effectively. You can think of them as rules of polite behavior: While driving, signal when you want to change lanes. Applaud at the end of a play. Raise your hand when you want to speak. Collaborating is all about adopting these conventions so you can focus on the more interesting aspects of the activity.

For decades, social scientists have been studying collaborative behavior, particularly as it relates to conversation. We use some of their observations in drawing up our own rules about how technology should cooperate with people. There are two types of politeness: negative politeness and positive politeness. To be negatively polite one should do no harm; don't ask too much of people, don't impose, don't offend. How does technology impose? It asks people to put in lots of effort for a small benefit. It overwhelms people with too many options so they can't find what they want. It asks people to keep track of too many things. At a minimum, you want your technology to be negatively polite so it's not seen as rude. This in itself is a challenge and most technology doesn't accomplish it, so just getting that far can make your technology stand out from your competition.

If you want to delight your users, you can design it to be "positively polite" by actively cooperating. It's difficult to list all the ways you can cooperate, but back in 1967, a linguist named Paul Grice came up with what he called the Cooperative Principle for Conversation, which we use as our guide. It consists of four rules, called Quantity, Quality, Relevance, and Manner. The Quantity Rule says you should offer just the right information for the circumstances, not too much and not too little. For example, suppose you ask a shop clerk, "Do you take personal checks?" It is more polite to respond, "I'm sorry, no, but we take credit cards, debit cards, and cash" than it is to say just, "I'm sorry, no." The first answer is better because it addresses your goal of paying for something, probably using something other than cash, and offers reasonable alternatives. But you also don't want to offer too much information. If you stopped to ask someone directions, and that person told you every street you would cross and every landmark you would pass along your way, they would make it too hard for you to remember the important information and you would consider them uncooperative.


© 2001 The New Yorker Collection from cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.


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Copyright Pearson Education and
Created: January 3, 2002
Revised: January 3, 2002

URL: http://webreference.com/authoring/design/usability/chap1/3.html