Usability and Mass Market

Currently, some people are thinking about the next stages of the user interface. They have issues with popular usability patterns such as WIMP and Wysiwyg, which don’t leverage the full potential of today’s technology, and seem to have now reached their limits.

M. Prove attributes recent usability problems to the confusing duel of the two interaction models of desktop (with WIMP) vs. web (without the W, I, and M).

J. Nielsen identified the limitations of the Wysiwyg paradigm as reason for the ribbon approach of MS Office 2007, suggesting that it is no longer sufficient to overcome learning curve hurdles but also the hurdles of the initial, blank screen.

While these approaches worry about clueless users, Alan Kay, in contrast, pleads for interfaces that require even more training to learn how to use, and would help think differently. He blames the mass market (which is otherwise seen as the catalyser of usability) for the limitations.

“When you go to a mass market and marketing is driving things rather than ideas, customers and the marketers will find a common ground where the marketers and buyers don’t have to work too hard.”

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with mass-oriented usability. However, the idea that one optimized interface is optimal for all the mass of users (one size fits all) ignores the fact that there are several cognitive styles, each of which would constitute a separate mass market of its own. Here is what I wrote down from a podcast of Jon Udell (approx. at minute 7:30):

… human beings have very different cognitive styles … dissolve into all those different constituencies. … Couldn’t there be a way to deliver into those more narrow constituencies? … We could deliver targeted capabilities …

See also my posting #119 about the ribbon.

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