Thursday, April 8, 2010

Error by Design

If you get a chance, check out David Pogue's column in today's New York Times. On one level, it's about wireless routers. But on another, it shows how bad design can induce people to make errors.

It seems that a whopping 25% of wireless routers are returned to the store after purchase. Why? Because they are too complicated to use.

In Why We Make Mistakes I talk a lot about how bad design can cause people to make mistakes they might not otherwise make. Those mistakes, in turn, are then blamed on the people, not the design. (For an example, check out the section on the heparin overdose given to the newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid and his wife.)

These kinds of mistakes can be avoided by applying well-known design principles. One example is what engineers call a "forcing function." A forcing function, as the name suggests, forces you to do a certain thing in a certain way.

A good example is in your car: to put your car in gear you must first depress the brake. That way, you don't accidentally have your foot on the gas when you drop it into gear and go hurtling into a pedestrian or other car. Good idea, huh?

But the people who make routers haven't caught on -- yet.

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Blogger Ann said...

It makes sense to me. In my experience engineers and programmers are pretty much the last people to think about how the end users are going to interact with the product. They're experts, after all, and it's hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn't automatically understand the same things they do. When they build a router, they ought to have their grandparents in mind.

May 10, 2010 at 6:12 PM  

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