“The Paradox of Technology”

23 03 2011

The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman, discusses something Norman calls the “paradox of technology”. Norman’s paradox states that as functionality is added, technology tends to become more complex. Of course, this doesn’t mean that functionality should be kept to a minimum, but that good design is required to minimize the difficulty of added functions. Norman factors in things like mapping, visibility and psychology to his deductions.

Norman’s book was written in 1990, and the designs of the telephones discussed in his first chapter are quite dated. His suggestions to improve the telephones by adding a display screen for a menu have now been incorporated into modern phones found in most businesses. Looking at modern technology, functionality has been added to the phone beyond what anyone could have imagined. With the miniaturization that has taken place in computers, it is now possible to incorporate the functions of many electronic devices into one device. The average cellphone is now also an mp3 player, radio, calculator, camera, gaming system, web browser, alarm clock, agenda, GPS device, and more in addition to regular phone functions. Had things continued along in the way Norman was observing, it is unlikely anyone would be able to use these all-in-one devices. However, thanks to clever design, although there is a learning curve involved, most cell-phones are relatively easy to use to the maximum functional potential. This is not to say that the epidemic of bad design has been cured. Bad design still exists, but looking at the case of the telephone, it would seem that good design has rooted out most of the issues Norman discusses. One of the main technologies we have to thank for this is the improvement and implementation of the touchscreen. Touchscreens allow maximum functionality and visibility of controls. They are not limited to physical buttons, meaning that screen space can be populated with only the buttons needed for functions pertaining to each screen in the interface. This limits confusion, as only the buttons a user would need are visible and clearly labelled. These interfaces have been perfected so that even the blind can easily navigate them 

Modern cellphones are a good example of adding functionality to a device while keeping usability relatively simple to understand. Much can be learned from observing the successful integration of so many handheld devices into one usable, effective tool. Paying closer attention to the user experience and how devices are mapped is key to acheiving “good design”.

Other Resources

A variety of things need to be considered for the user experience of touchscreen devices. This page briefly details some things to be considered when designing touchscreen kiosks in public places. 

Touchscreen technology has not yet been perfected. It has a lot of potential in a variety of applications. This is a review smashing magazine did on using tablets as design tools for sketching mockups to show to clients and co-workers.




One response

4 04 2011

Very well rationalized. I really enjoyed reading this post, and I completely agree with your thoughts and ideas based on the post. “One of the main technologies we have to thank for this is the improvement and implementation of the touchscreen.” And yes, i totally agree and appreciate the touch screen design.

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