Saturday, April 12, 2008

The definition of user-friendly. It ain't digital

My 3-year-old daughter took her first ride on a bicycle today. Here's a picture of her doing it. I didn't tell her where to put her hands, or how to make herself go forward, or how to steer. And when I fitted a bell she needed no instruction either.
I showed her once how to brake. She never needed to ask again. And she was off at a pace that had me jogging to keep up at times.
Makes me question how relative the term 'user-friendly' is - particularly for those of us who work in the digital space.
I've often said 'user-friendly is as use-friendly does', by which I mean eBay ain't user friendly but if you want to build an auction site you'd best make it work in a very similar way because it is how we have learned what user friendly is as far as auctions are concerned.
ITune is another example. User friendly? Is it hell. You've just learned how to use it and so anyone who wants to rival it has to take into account that it's the defacto way we interact with our music.
But a bicycle? Needs no explanation. And mechanical things are so good at that. So what is it that mechanical engineers and designers understand about us that digital designers regularly fail to?
Could it be that they put the human interface first?
What are the most user friendly devices you can think of? I'll make a wild guess that none of them are either electrical or digital.
A door perhaps, a seat? If you know of a digital service that can match the simplicity or effectiveness of a device from the mechanical world please do share...
This is not to say that mechanical design is always right, simple to point out that nothing digital has yet been as right as the best of the mechanical.
Hurrah for the humble bicycle.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?