PALO ALTO, Calif. A panel of experts on "ease of use" whose experience ranges from technology design to behavioral psychology agreed rather ruefully Wednesday (April 4) that one of the most complicated challenges in electronic engineering is simplicity.
Their conclusions echoed the irony of one audience memberan attorney with Silicon Valley law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosatiwho defined "technology" as "something that doesn't quite work yet."
Panelist B.J. Fogg, a psychologist who founded Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab, summarized the issue by saying that "every possibility you add to an interface increases your likelihood of failure" in the marketplace.
Tim Plowman, a professor who has studied human behavior at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Clara University, addressed the basic issue of convincing designers to devise interfaces that are intuitively accessible to users of all ages and levels of technical sophistication. "It is much, much harder," he said, "to achieve simplicity in interaction design."
Despite the difficulties, however, said moderator Junko Yoshida, news editor of EE Times, ease of use has become a "grave issue" in engineering. Designers, she said, must "listen to the SOS from consumers."
The forum was sponsored by the MIT Club of Northern California and developed by the SmartSilvers Alliance, an organization concerned with technology accessibility issues among the elderly.
Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO, a firm that designs user-centered products and services, noted that older users are slower to adapt to electronic device complexity because older users are more complex themselves, with "more things on our minds." He said, "Among us wrinklies, it's less likely that we'll get it right away, unlike younger people."
As several panelists noted, the older market segment is the one with the most money.
Moggridge is the author of, "Designing Interaction," that systematically addresses the issues of complexity and ease-of-use, partly through interviews with many of the most successful designers of electronic devices. Among these, Moggridge cited Doug Engelhart, inventor of the computer mouse. Engelhart considered many options for navigation on a computer screen but chose the mouse because it tested best with users.