Thursday, April 09, 2009

chi2009 -- day 3

Chi day 3. Everyone here has done a formative study to show how users go about some task on the computer or in their lives, generated a list of design criteria from that, mocked up a prototype, tested it in lab study, and shown with bar graphs that people do whatever it is 22% more efficiently.

If I add up all these 22% more efficiencies in every area of my life, I somehow don't see myself as 22% better off. Lots of things seem kind of cool in isolation, and I wouldn't mind being able to use them. But there's some kind of deeper "why" question I don't really see being addressed in the formative studies. Maybe it comes down to an ROI analysis: just because something is more efficient doesn't mean it's worth your time to switch to it: consider the costs versus benefits of switching the world from QWERTY to Dvorak. Dvorak is probably slightly more efficient, but the amount of campaigning it would take to change this, would be better spent campaigning for something else.

So, when studying people doing stuff with an eye towards making that stuff easier, there ought to be a rule of thumb you can apply to find out when to drop the whole thing and say "this person is actually doing OK; they don't really need something new". I don't know what that rule might be; it would have to be pretty subtle. The most comically inappropriate example was the guy presenting on Monday who was studying love with the idea of how a device might "improve" it. Sometimes people miss each other: this emotion serves a purpose, and it's not at all clear to me that we would be better off if we had technological gimmicks to trick ourselves out of it.

That's obviously a more extreme example than someone trying to help you search for restaurant reviews faster, or keep "to-do" notes all in one place, but maybe there's some ineffable factor in all of these things that's being missed.

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