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The Curse of Knowledge Bogs Down Innovation 260

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the yay-holiday-sunday-news dept.
Secret of Raising Smart Kids writes ""I have a DVD remote control with 52 buttons on it, and every one of them is there because some engineer along the line knew how to use that button and believed I would want to use it, too," says David Heath, co-author of "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die." The "curse of knowledge," is the paradox that as our knowledge and expertise increase, our creativity and ability to innovate tend to taper off because the walls of the box we think inside of thicken along with our experience. An article in the NY Times proposes a solution to the curse: bring outsiders with no experience onto teams to keep creativity and innovation on track. When experts have to slow down and go back to basics to bring an outsider up to speed, "it forces them to look at their world differently and, as a result, they come up with new solutions to old problems." Another solution is to force yourself to become a beginner again like making yourself shoot basketball left-handed."
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The Curse of Knowledge Bogs Down Innovation

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  • 52 buttons (Score:5, Funny)

    by niceone (992278) * on Sunday December 30, 2007 @09:56AM (#21855850) Journal
    No, his DVD remote has 52 buttons on it because people will really sit down and learn all of those ff/rew/2x/4x/slo-mo/repeat/A-B/loop functions in order to more efficiently find and view the naughty bits of movies.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Krupuk (978265)
      The worst part is that all these 52 buttons probably have a "shift" function, so there are in fact 104 buttons! And what's with the labels? Does anyone really understand (without looking in the guide) what "DTY", "AND" and "NOR" do mean?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by quizzicus (891184)
        Binary boolean operators?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by calebt3 (1098475)
        One doesn't need to look at the manual. Use the button and see what happens.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Lumpy (12016)
        Of which makes my life better. I love DVD players with DISCREET IR functions. I HATE The crappy ones t hat have a single POWER button a single PLAY/PAUSE and other "multifunction" single buttons. Only the crappy products do that.

        you see I'm an integrator, I take all that high tech gear that makes an entertainment center/theater and make it brain dead easy for a person with an IQ of 80 use it without help.

        I love dvd players that have discreet ON and OFF IR commands. that way when you press the "TURN EVER
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MR.Mic (937158)
      What if they made a special kind of movie, where all the parts are naughty?
      That would greatly reduce the strain on the viewer. ...
      HOLY CRAP, I am going to be so RICH!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      In reality, those 52 buttons are there because some engineer thought someone might need a few of them, and someone else might need a few different ones, and so on.

      But I like your explanation better. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "bring outsiders with no experience onto teams"


      Isn't that what management is for?

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:03AM (#21855900) Homepage Journal
    I thought it was fairly standard when doing usability trials to include a wide range of users, with a wide range of abilities. What's good for the n00b might not be right for a poweruser.

    As to self handicapping, we were encouraged do that at judo practice when we were kids - when practicing against a smaller or less experienced opponent, you don't use your best techniques. This cuts both ways, he gets a fair go and you improve your weak areas.

    Finally, the reason it has 52 buttons is probably because a competitor's had 51.
    • I think there is quite strong evidence that consumer electronics companies are terrible at this. They seem to let their engineers and graphic designers have their way, and actual usability is a distant third.

      This is one reason why Apple has taken it all by storm - they actually care about simplicity and usability (without being too patronising).
      • The Apple Remote is a great example of easy to use, it has play/pause, menu, select, next, back, and volume up and down.
    • by Znork (31774)
      "What's good for the n00b might not be right for a poweruser."

      Absolutely. The poweruser would be very annoyed if functions were lacking. And remotes, such as shipped with most devices, are notoriously unconfigurable.

      So I'll propose a much simpler solution. Send a 'simple' remote with the devices in question, make the device itself capable of outputting its codes for programming (like, an OSD with send-code for each function, or even better, a _standard_ for rapidly programming remotes, or even better than t
      • Oh yeah. I would love it if all my devices had a simple bluetooth interface that would pop up on my non-existent universal remote.

        Steve Jobs - you can do this using the iPhone (technolgy). You have all the components needed. Just make a really sexy unit with multitouch and an IR port, and then make it interface with all kinds of units. Make it work with Apple TV and frontrow too, while you're at it. And Windows Media watchacallit too, if possible.
      • Send a 'simple' remote with the devices in question, make the device itself capable of outputting its codes for programming (like, an OSD with send-code for each function, or even better, a _standard_ for rapidly programming remotes, or even better than that, a standard for remote codes), clearly write the function codes in the manual, and make sure the specs are widely published and available on the net.

        I'd be happy to find a trainable remote for under $30....

    • by peragrin (659227)
      The single best DVD player remote I have ever used it

      My Apple remote with 6 buttons on it. add one for power, and possibly an eject and your done.

      In 10 years of owning dvd players I have never used any other buttons. but those 8.

      and can someone tell me why there is a number pad on every remote when not a single DVD allows input like that?
      • DVD's aren't the issue, it's the player. When you want to enter in a specific time to jump to in the movie, then the number pad is quite helpful.

        (or if you want to unlock the "ultimate" version of Terminator2)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by onemorechip (816444)
        Eject? It's the one button I don't want to see on a remote.

        I have a glass door in front of my components. I don't want to accidentally eject into the closed door, so I intentionally left the eject functons for the CD and DVD players off when I set up my Harmony remote.

        And think about it: When you eject a disc, you're going to want to be right there in front of the device to remove the disc and/or put in a new one. Why do you need the remote for this?
        • by Blakey Rat (99501)
          It's quicker. Most DVD/CD/whatever players take 5-10 seconds to actually eject the tray, possibly more if it's on a turntable. With the button on the remote, you can eject the disk and by the time I stand up and walk to the device, the disk is there waiting for me. I use this all the time on my Xbox 360, and I miss it on other devices in my house.
          • My CD changer (Yamaha) ejects immediately. The DVD player (Panasonic) may take about a second, I think. But there's that glass door thing (not an issue for everybody, I admit), so even if it took 20 seconds, I'd still be there doing it manually.
        • Funny thing about that. I was watching Il Postinolast night, and the menu system was buggy. I essentially rebooted the DVD player with two presses of the Eject button (Slide tray out, slide tray in).

          Certain features of this player (region changing, switching between DVD-Audio and DVD-Video) only seem to work when the tray is extended. A remote eject is useful there.

          On the other hand, I use a Harmony, so many of the advanced features don't have hard buttons assigned to them.

        • Because invariably, they've chosen a poor switch/button on the device (or tried for a minimalist face* and omitted it entirely) that's not in a convenient location, or doesn't have much travel so combined with the delay you're not ever quite sure you've really pressed it.

          *which is silly on the face of it (grin). Offloading complication onto the remote just clutters up the remote, and has other downsides as well. I have a VCR that can't access the menu system except through the remote. (made by sony. One
      • The eject button has always bugged me. You need to approach the player to retrieve or exchange the disk. Why, oh why, have that button on the remote?
        • by internewt (640704)

          The eject button has always bugged me. You need to approach the player to retrieve or exchange the disk. Why, oh why, have that button on the remote?

          Cos its a pain to change the DVD, sit down, and only then realise that like an idiot you're not pushed the tray in..... but the play button (or any function that needs to look at the DVD) could close the tray if it is open.

          Cos the missus can't find the eject button on the front of the player, and you don't want to get up ;)

          Cos the competion has an eject button.

          Cos the market research said that consumers want an eject button... ignoring the fact that the consumers were asked "Should there be an eject bu

    • by Palpitations (1092597) * on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:56AM (#21856290)

      I thought it was fairly standard when doing usability trials to include a wide range of users, with a wide range of abilities. What's good for the n00b might not be right for a poweruser.
      Agreed, 100%. At the risk of starting a flame war, the same could be said for almost any user interface - Gnome vs. KDE vs. OS X vs. Windows Vista vs. Windows XP being the most contentious of them here on Slashdot I imagine (listed in alphabetical order to avoid preferential treatment). Some are designed to be used for power users out of the box, some for beginners, but the true strength of an interface is flexibility. Design an interface that works for many people by all means, that's great. What is even better is to let people work out a system that works for them. Don't force the user to adapt to your interface, let the interface adapt to the user in a way that makes sense for them.

      Bringing it back to the concept of 52 button remotes, I simply don't think that's needed. Half the number of buttons, provide a more intelligent, context aware system, and I imagine many people would have an easier time using it. Watching many older and/or less tech savvy people using a remote, it seems to me like a large portion of their time is used up staring at the huge array of things sitting in front of them - at least 75% of which don't have anything to do with what they're doing. Programmable touchscreen remotes are a step in the right direction, but without the tactile input it's severely lacking (even if you know the layout, you still need to look down to verify what you're doing).

      I believe the largest remote I've had was 50 buttons, and I could use it to do anything I wanted to blindfolded (going as far as changing advanced settings on my receiver, I knew the settings it had and the way it cycled through options). Hell, I've got 40 buttons worth of joystick hooked up to my PC at the moment, and know all of them well. That's easy enough for me. I'm pretty far from the standard user though, and I would never expect someone who just wanted to sit down and watch some TV or a movie to deal with that.
      • It's an issue of how the interface is revealed. Putting the primary functions up front in a clear and obvious manner means *all* users can use the basic functions immediately. The more advanced functions should then be logically and methodically discoverable as needed. Those users who don't care can have the basic functions with little or no investment in learning while those desirous of more advanced features can learn them through the same methods they already use -- either trial and error or RTFM.

        So the
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          I agree with you about discoverability. I noticed that a lot of buttons on RCA remotes become unusable during certain situations, which means that they go to waste.

          Another thing that I would suggest is using the stop button as a universal cancel button, and the play button as a universal submit/okay button. This would lower the learning curve, and save a lot of heart ache.

          Another idea is to just give 2 remotes. 1 would be for configuring the player, and 1 would be for using the player. The configuring remot
      • by mpe (36238)
        Watching many older and/or less tech savvy people using a remote, it seems to me like a large portion of their time is used up staring at the huge array of things sitting in front of them - at least 75% of which don't have anything to do with what they're doing.

        Or even working out which of the tiny buttons, labled in tiny writing, they actually need to press.
      • by version5 (540999) <`altovideo' `at' `hotmail.com'> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @08:03PM (#21860456)

        What is even better is to let people work out a system that works for them. Don't force the user to adapt to your interface, let the interface adapt to the user in a way that makes sense for them.

        Kind of, but not really. I might even go so far as to say that this kind of crypto-libertarian approach to user interface design is the opposite of good design. It sounds good in theory to say that you aren't going to impose on your users, but that in itself is an imposition, because it assumes that the users know what makes sense for them, and punishes those who don't. In most cases, that is a very large majority of your users, and you end up confusing and frustrating them by presenting them with choices that they don't know how to make. The general rule of thumb for usability is don't make the user think, although I will say that it is quite important for the interface to reflect (or at least acknowledge) the user's mental model.

        Particularly when it comes to software, most people use computers so that they have to do less, unlike a power user who wants to do more. Some of the best user interfaces are opinionated -- they are biased toward a particular way of doing things that the product designers think is most effective or useful, instead of being a swiss army knife that attempts to do everything. What users are buying is the designers' expertise and knowledge to make choices so they don't have to kind of like how you visit sites like Slashdot because the editors have opinions about what news is interesting.

        This raises the question of whether you could do UI/interaction/industrial design using a Digg-style wisdom of the crowds methodology. I would say that you can't, because although people are pretty good at self-reporting whether something is interesting/funny/news-worthy to them, they are notoriously bad at self-reporting how they use interfaces. This is pretty evident when you get customer emails suggesting features that also suggest a UI design ("Please put a dropdown here, a button to the left of that, and a red box underneath that says..."). These proposed designs often violate every usability heuristic in the book, and if we actually implemented the UI in that way, it would test very badly with almost all users, including the user that proposed. Other techniques like eye-tracking headsets could be used this way, but its difficult to do that on a widescale.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by eison (56778)
        Many people, particularly older people, have tremendous problems with "context aware" buttons. They simply can't handle the thought of modes. Even for people quite comfortable with the concept, it can introduce additional errors and delays in the interface. Having one button do one thing is actually one of the easiest interfaces for people to learn and master.

        52 buttons sure does sound like a lot, probably even a bit much, but switching to multifunction buttons isn't automatically an improvement for eith
    • by Zigurd (3528)
      Usability testing is something every well-intentioned planner puts on the schedule at the start of a project. But, unless the project manager knows to take opportunities as they come,and can tolerate some sidelong glances about spending money on frivolous things when the project has delays and resource shortages to make up in implementation, it is often cut down or eliminated.

      A problem with abbreviated usability testing is that bad test design creeps in because it is cheaper: Why ask if a focus group delive
      • All I ask for is that ONE non-development person go through actual use before I buy it. How expensive or time-consuming is that? If the interface problem can be discovered on one use, then I consider it inexcusable.

        And believe it or not, many products I've used would fail even this.
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      You're right; the big problem being pointed out here is that nobody *does* usability trials. Or, if they do, they ignore the results and sell the product anyway. Do you think Apple did any public usability trials before unveiling that terrible Spotlight search interface in Finder in 10.4? Or Microsoft's most idiotic "wizard": "how do you want to index your help files?"* Do you think GIMP developers have ever spent even a second thinking about how the end user might react to something?

      There are some products
    • What bothers me is the way everyone here takes the article so literally and so narrowly. They use a remote as an example, but it doesn't just apply to user interfaces. For example code re-use which is generally a good thing, as far a productivity goes, but is actually a double edged sword.

      Frameworks a good example of what I mean. While a framework helps us to get things done, most will no longer think of their own solution to the problem, relying on someone else's solution. This mean a new novel solut
  • There, that is the summation of the summery, we all know most slashdotters gave up even "reading the fantastic summery" years ago.
  • Duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by markdavis (642305) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:05AM (#21855914)
    It is a basic principle of ergonomics. It is also very true. I see users (and myself) frustrated all the time with stupid or confusing designs. Buttons that don't make sense, user interfaces with too many choices, missing features, badly categorized menus, poorly written or absent documentation, etc. A current trend in electronics is to "dumb down" the device to make it "friendly", by chopping out useful features. That is a mistake! You can have all the features, just organize them well! Resist the urge to make them all visible at once! If necessary, add "user level" modes like "basic" and "advanced".

    Every now and then I end up with something so well designed and thought-out it is amazing. At first one doesn't even notice the great- it just "works" and you get done what you need, effortlessly. All the features you need are there, easy to find, well documented. Makes you want to scream at some manufacturers "Hey, look at this product. THIS is how to do it." (I know, you want an example.... OK, the TiVo fits into that category for me.)

    It is difficult for people to pretend to be other people- to have different skill sets, capabilities, thought processes.
  • This can work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by prisoner (133137) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:09AM (#21855938)
    I've done it with my business (computer consulting) in the past and it can work. Of course, it can also go horribly wrong - it depends entirely on the person and the situation. You can't parachute someone with no skills at all into an intense consulting situation but I've hired people with some minimal IT experience and it has made my business better because of it. Even if they do not immediately contribute to the bottom line they can make the business stronger.

    In my case, hiring the best "generalist" IT consultants has consistently led me towards a company full of gifted but undisciplined (including me) staff. I have hired a couple of very disciplined but marginal IT people in the recent past as their adherence to ordering and overall work flow have made the company stronger. In such a situation you usually have to give them a lot of support and keep the other staff from grousing too loudly about it but it can work.

    I expect it is a pretty old trick really.
  • Common sense? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:09AM (#21855944) Homepage Journal
    I thought having 'non technical' people review products was common practice ( unless you are from china ). I have always done that. Including their input in the beginning and throughout the life of development is also standard.
    • You can get valuable feedback by having outsiders review your products, but this goes a bit further. They're talking about having outsiders in on actual design meetings and brainstorming sessions.

      Reviews after production (or design) tend to only scratch the surface; you'll get comments on your almost-finished work, maybe you'll make a few changes but rarely will you come up with something completely different because the tester thought your product sucked. In contrast, getting an outsider in on brainst
      • by nurb432 (527695)
        "You can get valuable feedback by having outsiders review your products, but this goes a bit further. They're talking about having outsiders in on actual design meetings and brainstorming sessions"

        So was i.. And it seems so basic to me that everyone should have been doing it. ( but i realize often times that people 'develop' in a vacuum ) I always include the end users along the way, and readjust my thinking to suit them since they will be using it, not me. I also spend the time to at least understand thei
  • Usability (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <rich@anne x i a .org> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:17AM (#21855992) Homepage

    I didn't read TFA but it seems naive to believe that there are such "teams of experts" designing remote controls and whatnot. Here's the thing: Consumers don't think about usability at all when they buy, and as a simple consequence of that no time or effort is spent on it.

    I was talking to a friend who has just spent thousands on a very nice looking oven/hobb. To my dismay (but not my surprise) it still has the hobb controls in a straight line, not in any way related to the layout of the hobb rings themselves, meaning that she will still make mistakes turning the wrong ring off or up, burning food and so on, and she'll constantly have to look at the tiny diagrams by each control to try to work out which hobb ring it corresponds to.

    Meanwhile the light switches in her new half-million-pound house are grouped together randomly so you have to experiment by switching lights on and off at random until you hit the right switch.

    Her fridge has a temperature control that goes from '-' to '+'. Is that "more heat" or "more refrigeration"?

    Oh, and all the power sockets in the house are at floor level, not convenient waist or hand height. Her DVD/TV remote probably has 50 unused buttons on it (I didn't look).

    These are #1 usability problem with hobbs, light switches, fridges, power points, etc.; there are books written about it [amazon.com], yet you can't buy an oven, light switch, or new house which doesn't have these problems.

    Rich.

    • Re:Usability (Score:4, Informative)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:35AM (#21856128) Journal

      Oh, and all the power sockets in the house are at floor level, not convenient waist or hand height.
      Most modern houses these days have power sockets at ground level, whereas it's the older ones that have them at hand height. Why? I suppose the universal truth in construction was that having them up high is convenient, just as you suggest. Then some "outsider" appeared, perhaps a housewife who sat down with a contractor to have her house redone, and asked "Can we move these unsightly power sockets to the floor, so that they'll be hidden from view behind the furniture?". Perhaps her friends came to visit and thought "That looks really tidy" and had it done in their homes as well.

      My own apartment still has them at hand height, and I'd move them all to the floor if I could... but these concrete walls are so hard, I think I can ride out a nuclear war in this place. Anyway, my point is that the article points out a way to avoid the trap into which you seem to have stepped: don't take your own knowledge and wisdom for universal truths.
      • by hcdejong (561314)
        Obviously, you need both: lots of sockets just above the floor for all those gadgets you plug in once and then forget about, plus a few easily-accessible sockets in each room for things that need plugging in temporarily.
        Problem is, even if you build your own house and have full control over the entire process, you're going to discover not all sockets are exactly where you're going to need them.
    • Re:Usability (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Aladrin (926209) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:44AM (#21856194)
      Maybe the problem is that you're spending too much money.

      Mobile Home - Light switches are all pretty damned obvious as there's only 1 light in each room.

      Cheap oven - There aren't many knobs to worry about, and it's pretty easy to remember which is which.

      Cheap TV - Only has 0-9 and volume controls on the remote.

      Cheap DVD - Only has play/stop/pause and fastforward/rewind, plus a couple of 'menu' buttons to access the menus on the dvd.

      Cheap Fridge - Has a dial from 0 to 9 with details on which is coldest.

      A lot of your problems don't even stem from lack of design. They come from having too many features.

      There are 50 buttons on that remote because the device does SO much stuff. You paid for it, and you'll need a way to control it. Personally, I -use- those buttons, so I don't find them to be annoying.

      There are too many light switches in the house because you have so much control over the lighting. Oddly enough, the fix for this probably can actually be -more- technology instead of less. I plan to one day hook up my lights to the computer and control them based on time, where people are in the house, and other factors.
      • by drspliff (652992)
        The flat I rent came furnished with appliances, most of them I figured out how to use as the manuals have long since been lost by previous tennants.

        However - the fridge has 0 - 5 for temperature control with no indication of what it means.

        For example, is that 0C to 5C? 0=off and 5=fullpower.

        There are slightly different shapes next to each indicator, but i have no idea what they mean and don't seem to have any indication of that effect turning it to "0" will do.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by smoker2 (750216)

      To my dismay (but not my surprise) it still has the hobb controls in a straight line, not in any way related to the layout of the hobb rings themselves, meaning that she will still make mistakes turning the wrong ring off or up, burning food and so on, and she'll constantly have to look at the tiny diagrams by each control to try to work out which hobb ring it corresponds to.

      Constantly, or once ? Do you need a degree in systems management to operate a cooker ?

      Meanwhile the light switches in her new half-mi

      • Re:Usability (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mosch (204) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @11:29AM (#21856576) Homepage
        Read The Fucking Manual !

        You really should not have to read the manual on a fridge. Plug it in, food gets cold, water and ice come through the door. Game over.

        If the fridge is more complicated than that, nearly nobody will do it.
      • Re:Usability (Score:4, Insightful)

        by vtcodger (957785) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @11:38AM (#21856636)
        ***Read The Fucking Manual !***

        It's a fairly safe bet that you do not read manuals either. If you did, you would know that they are generally produced either by an engineer with negligible communications skills or by a technical writer who has not been given adequate time to understand the device. There are exceptions, but most manuals for modern equipment are even worse than the controls.

        Put the blame for bad interface design and documentation where it belongs -- on the folks why produce them.

        • by mpe (36238)
          It's a fairly safe bet that you do not read manuals either. If you did, you would know that they are generally produced either by an engineer with negligible communications skills or by a technical writer who has not been given adequate time to understand the device. There are exceptions, but most manuals for modern equipment are even worse than the controls.

          You also need to factor in that the manual you are reading could well be a bad translation of the original.
      • A refrigerator shouldn't need a manual to explain which way a temperature dial goes colder. It only requires one or two words printed near the dial. Why suggest pulling out a manual for such a trivial task? I really can't think of any compelling reason that a kitchen appliance should require a manual, they're not that complex, they should just be properly labelled.

        With regards to DVD / TV remotes, they should stick to buttons that 95% of the owners would actually use, and tell the remaining 5% to sod off
    • I grew up in a cheap tract house from the 1970s, and even those builders got it right. The old (old!) rule for US electricians is that you wire the switches so that when you are looking at the switch plate, the left most switch controls the left-most fixture from your point of view. Draw a line out from your body thru the structure to each fixture and the work is done for you.

      It shouldn't be too hard or expensive to get someone to reconfigure those switches.
    • Re:Usability (Score:4, Insightful)

      by avandesande (143899) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @11:16AM (#21856468) Journal
      Don't forget 'no-remote':
      I have invariably lost every remote that was paired with my gadgets. I have a dvd player that will play but no way to select menu options. AFAIC this is piss-poor engineering.
      • DVD players with enough controls on the face to use the menu are often hard to use in that manner anyway.
    • by drsquare (530038)

      Oh, and all the power sockets in the house are at floor level, not convenient waist or hand height.
      They're supposed to be on the floor. What's convenient about having wires hanging all over your walls? I can understand them being at waist height in a kitchen, but anywhere else it's just asking for trouble.
    • It's worse. The buyers encourage overengineering. They want that advanced TV - for bragging rights.

      Ya know, I think I might as well start my own business, creating user-friendly, gorgeous electronics products that interface through an open standard. Kinda like the squeezebox. Hands up everyone that would buy one!
    • Consumers don't think about usability at all when they buy, and as a simple consequence of that no time or effort is spent on it.

      I'm sure that's largely true, and maybe even worse in that I'm sure there are some people who when faced with two products of same price, one with a 50 button remote and one with a 10 button remote, would choose the 50 button because it's "obviously more powerful - has more functions". I can see Marketing weenies asking for more buttons for the same reason.

      OTOH, even though many
    • by fredklein (532096)
      I was talking to a friend who has just spent thousands on a very nice looking oven/hobb. To my dismay (but not my surprise) it still has the hobb controls in a straight line, not in any way related to the layout of the hobb rings themselves, meaning that she will still make mistakes turning the wrong ring off or up, burning food and so on, and she'll constantly have to look at the tiny diagrams by each control to try to work out which hobb ring it corresponds to.

      1) WTF is a hobb??
      2) Assuming you mean 'stove
  • by foobsr (693224) * on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:17AM (#21856008) Homepage Journal
    More the lack of knowledge, or at least the application of it.

    Some causes:
    – unnecessary time pressure at 'lower levels' due to lack of planning capabilities at 'higher levels'
    – general focus on speed (seen as reduction of cost) rather than quality
    – expulsion of elderly above 35 from processes, thereby loosing on 'corporate knowledge'
    – focus on specialised training, view of general education as a burden and a waste of time

    CC.
  • This only works if you have enough people with an open mind on your team. Especially when you are doing innovation, this requirement should be on top. So the problem is: getting enough people with an open mind that are willing to let go of some - even basic - principles. If the team does not comply to that; well, forget it. It is very important that this free thinking is supported by the company you work for (at mine, I've got the feeling that it isn't anymore). On top of that you need a good control struct
  • Age is a fever chill every physicist must fear;
    He's better dead than living still,
    once he's past his thirtieth year.

    (on the tendency of physics people to be most productive in their youngest years)

    I'll graduate when I'm 29. One year of productivity! :)
    • There is something to be said for the passion of youth. --You skyrocket through possibilities because to you, the thing/s you are interested in hold the same kind of fire and magic as young love, and you'll bust your butt trying to bring your vision into reality.

      And then it's there. So what next?

      That's the real trick. --Re-tooling your awareness so that you can continue. Some manage it very well, but there are lots (and lots) of burn-outs. Changing fields entirely is one way to re-kindle one's passion
  • We can all agree that 52 buttons is too many for a remote control and that 95% of the features of Microsoft Word are wasted. But we can't agree on which buttons or Word features are critical.

    Software makes it cheap to add features (especially if design is outsourced to India/China) and mass marketing makes added features seem valuable. Each added feature/button adds another 1% to the market because it attracts people who think they need added feature X. Selling another 10,00, 100,00, or a million players
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      Word's a good example. And to help resolve the problem, Word totally changed around their UI for the latest version in an attempt to hide featuresets from the main UI but at the same time make them accessible to others who may want to use them. Surely Word 2007 isn't the end-all be-all to this problem, but it shows Microsoft's willing to make deep changes to their product to make it better.
  • so I'll try doing something else with my left hand instead.
  • bring outsiders with no experience onto teams to keep creativity and innovation on track.

    We have loads of outsiders with absolutely no experience or knowledge of the product at all... we call them managers. The fact that the DVD has so many buttons is more a reflection on the consumer..they want more buttons. Somehow buttons is associated with sophistication to the majority. If there are two DVD players, and one has more buttons on the remote, they will go for that one. Personally, I would be so happy if t

  • This is a problem well beyond just Engineering and computers. It is normally do the fact that most people think that everyone else is smarter then them. So if everyone else who they perceive as smarter then them does it that way so should they. Financial markets show this a lot. An investment which is doing good and has no signs of problems suddenly come crashing down after a big firm gets rid of the asset (sometimes for reasons that are not negative to the investment, such as needing cash, mitigating ri
  • If you want your new product to pass the "dumb user" test, just give it to your boss. If he/she can understand it, there's a good chance that every other idiot can.

    If it has buttons (a la DVD remote) coat them with a substance that easily rubs off. Whatever buttons haven't been pressed (i.e. still have substance on them) after 5 minutes of boss-time, remove them as they will never be used by other people. If the "on" switch is one of these, toss the prototype as it's obvious no-one will ever use it.

    BTW,

  • Great, with this proposal my remote control won't provide me with the access to advanced features that I use because some off-the-street idiot doesn't understand the difference between PCM and THX II?

    Procrustean feature limitation is NOT the answer. Maybe providing two remotes, one for Dummies and one for people who actually want to use their equipment - maybe.

    Most people learn to not mess with things they don't understand on a full-featured remote. And you know what? That is a good lesson in life. The univ
    • by egomaniac (105476)
      Great, with this proposal my remote control won't provide me with the access to advanced features that I use because some off-the-street idiot doesn't understand the difference between PCM and THX II?

      The suggestion isn't that you lose access to those features. It's merely that a remote control doesn't really need dedicated buttons to switch between these modes -- perhaps you should be doing it via a menu system.
      • perhaps you should be doing it via a menu system

        The problem I have with a menu system is that it is sometimes hard to find the option you are looking for. My cable box uses a menu system, and it is really atrocious.

    • by autocracy (192714)
      You know, I just HAD to comment on your signature. My user number is also probably lower than yours, assuming you're just another /.er.
  • by dermoth666 (1019892) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @11:48AM (#21856712)
    With two remote controls, one could be made easy with most used features (power control, menu buttons, play/stop/pause/ff/fr and the setup button) and the other one with plenty of buttons for brainy people that use all the features made available to them.

    Wouldn't that be the best of the two worlds?
  • IMO consumer electronics are a market that's firmly in the grip of the 'race to the bottom' where new versions of the same gadget are shoveled out the door with minimal effort in an attempt to make money when the margins are razor-thin.

  • bring outsiders with no experience onto teams

    Various groups of people within the one-in-a-1000 to one-in-a-million IQ societies have been making this argument for years. "I may not know your business but hire me as a consultant because I'm smart." I think the success of the argument has been stunningly underwhelming.
  • There is a reason why we are stuck in one place for 40 years. Same energy sources, same engines, same everything, just improvement but no innovation. Brightest minds busy improving mobile phones and thinking of cute ways to abuse AJAX instead of brining real solutions to the world. You had TV ? No you get it Flat ! You had audio recording ? Now get it digital ! It used to be - "Now we can fly !" "We have entered space !" "Nuclear Power is here" . We are living in the most boring times in the last 200 year
  • Really understanding the product and the user is a prerequisite for designing an effective user interface. Unfortunately, it's not sufficient. If you understand the product, but not the user's needs, you end up with 52 buttons with weird labels. If you understand the user's needs, but not the product, you end up with a gadget that won't do half the things the one with 52 buttons will do. If you understand neither, you end up with a typical consumer product.

    You also need to have some talent for inter

  • Engineering Credo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anorlunda (311253) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @12:22PM (#21856978) Homepage
    The point in the NYT article was much more profound that just user interfaces. I spent my entire career in engineering software battling the tendency of engineers to build ever thicker walls around their thinking boxes as their careers advanced.

    Most difficult were engineers who learned clever tricks to conserving memory in their programming. As Moore's progressed, those skills devalued, then became worthless, and finally became negative in value. I had one engineer at late as 1987 who would spend two days effort to save three bytes of memory in his program. Engineers are trained to build on experience, and they expect their experiences to add to their value synergistically as the years pass. The idea that past experience could have negative value was a threat to their personal credos and their career strategy.

    It got so bad in my company that I once advocated hiring programmers at age 13, taking them out of school and exploiting them until age 23. At 23 we would force them to retire and finance them to finish high school and college, then move on to some other career. Needless to say, I didn't get very far with that policy.

    What should we expect? The whole profession of engineering is based on the concept of incrementally adding to and improving on past experience, from the Romans up to today. Every time a bridge collapses or some other engineering disaster occurs, the public demands that we learn lessons and never ever commit that error again. After 2,000 years of that, how much innovation can you expect?

    Contrast that with what is happening at Google. According to reports, Google employees dink around with their own ideas. Sometimes they show up for work on Monday with a bit of prototype code, then they circulate it around the company looking for reactions. The winners survive and the losers disappear without any bridges collapsing or innocent people being killed. That's what so great about software -- it is so easy to prototype. To fully exploit it, you need people who don't know what they can't do.

    There was a great book called Computer Wars [amazon.com] made the same point about innovation and corporations rather than individuals. The book's point was that if and when the time comes to change the base business model and technology upon which the company was founded, that the founders feel threatened and the company fails. The battle fields re littered with the corpses of countless companies that fell victim to that trap. Now think of Google again. If and when the day comes that the Internet is no longer the big thing, will Google be flexible enough to reinvent itself or will it just die?

    How about yourself? if someday the sun came up and the Internet was no longer important, could you reinvent yourself? Can you even imagine that possibility? Probably not -- your thinking box won't allow for such possibilities.
    • by gillbates (106458)

      How about yourself? if someday the sun came up and the Internet was no longer important, could you reinvent yourself? Can you even imagine that possibility?

      Yes, because I got a degree in computer science, not programming.

      Were I to be suddenly transplanted to an Amish community tomorrow, I would have no problem finding ways of improving the efficiency of otherwise manual processes through critical analysis of their process*. The same techniques used to optimize algorithms and model complex phenomen

    • Most difficult were engineers who learned clever tricks to conserving memory in their programming. As Moore's progressed, those skills devalued, then became worthless, and finally became negative in value.

      They're not worthless and never will be. There are segments of the industry (say Google) who are constantly pushing the boundaries: they want to process more and more data, and do it faster. Every incremental improvement in efficiency translates into real cost savings. To process and serve more data, yo
    • by Vellmont (569020)

      Engineers are trained to build on experience, and they expect their experiences to add to their value synergistically as the years pass. The idea that past experience could have negative value was a threat to their personal credos and their career strategy.

      In general I agree. I just think too many people aren't trained to think of the environment constantly changing, and having to adapt to a new environment. The thing to get really good at is adaption, rather than getting really good at one particular bel
  • Top-level 'human interfaces'. Groups of buttons/symbols/layouts that do ubiquitous things (play/record/cancel media, fix environmental settings/heating/aircon, setup timeswitches, make a call, extract money from the wall... what else? It does already happen in some sectors, but there's too much incentive to 'do it in a (patentable) original way' or 'do it with a minimum number of mysteriously multifunction buttons'. We want a uniform (extensible) physical 'user layer'. If there were voluntary 'Standards
  • Creativity and knowledge go hand in hand. Expanding knowledge provides new tools to be creative. Creativity may be restricted by the properties of the outside reality, but not by knowledge. Even intelligence doesn't matter, unless something coherent needs to be created :)
  • My development team has a few know-nothing outsiders on every project, and it really slows things down and we end up wasting a lot of time AND doing things wrong because we have to placate someone who has no clue when they insist that the project must be re-worked to incorporate some idea they had in the 9th hour.

    What you really need on projects is clear vision and leadership so you can have good decision making. Someone who has the ability to say "no", someone who can defer a good idea to a future version
  • The problem in remote design is that a large percentage of the buttons are unused but different ones are unused for different people/times.

    If you only watch Hollywood movies all you need is play, pause etc. But if you are hard of hearing, watch foreign films or watch a lot of anime the subtitle and language buttons are critical. If you are trying to catch details, a-b and slow motion/frame by frame is very handy.

    The key is to allow people to abstract the complexity and make the keys needed available when ne
  • Or.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cvd6262 (180823) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @01:39PM (#21857610)
    I have a keyboard with 101 buttons on it, and every one of them is there because some engineer along the line knew how to use that button and believed I would want to use it, too...

    I have a MacBook, with the Apple remote. How do I jump to chapter 13 of a track? I hit "forward" 12 times. Why? Because some usability guru thought simplicity was more important than functions I use daily.

    Personally, I would rather have the power to perform complex task simply (and let the non-power user ignore the 48+ buttons they never use) than not have the ability to perform the tasks easily because someone took out the button.
  • by jwiegley (520444) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @01:40PM (#21857616)

    I'm tired of hearing engineers blamed as being uncreative, uncooperative, stubborn, "need to think out of the box" people. It's a generalization based upon limited knowledge and fear of those people.

    The axiom is true of every other field or profession I can think of. Do you think politicians are thinking outside the box these days? Or are they sticking with what worked in the 1920s? How about natural scientists? Einstein went to his grave refusing to believe in quantum entanglement calling it "spooky action at a distance". Marketing people? Have you seen a really different car ad in the past three decades? Accountants? Bound by limitations of math. Their numbers just have to add up and like bridges falling down if you do something shaky you get Enron type accounting.

    Oh! you meant children and artists are creative. First, children. They draw on paper and come up with crazy new ideas. Well except that the things they draw can't be built due to physics of materials and usually they're crazy ideas can't be built because they aren't practical enough to be profitable or affordable. They don't have an understanding of constraints and constraints must be factored into any product. Second, artists. Come now... really look at the works of Jackson Pollock. Are his later pieces really that much more outside of his box than his first splatters of paint? I went to a gallery exhibit once and one artist painted nothing but cloud scenes over country sides and the other made nothing but abstract, headless sculptures of narrow shouldered big assed women. No artists do not think outside of their boxes any more than engineers do.

    The reality is that the world, people and the universe impose constraints on any projects. As any person gets older they learn what works to keep them alive and what does not and it is very effective. It has been very effective for ten of thousands of years. Do not eat the pretty frogs no matter how hungry you are. "Out side of the box" dictates: "consider that this frog is different." NO! do NOT eat the pretty frogs... period. You are much better off thinking inside of the box.

    Engineers are some of the most creative people I have ever met. They are given a goal, often with no direction of how to get there and they must reach that goal while always satisfying very tight constraints. This type of creativity is very hard. It's easy on canvas with paint but a canvas picture of an engine doesn't have to be manufacturable, it doesn't have to be profitable, it doesn't have to produce a certain minimum horsepower, it doesn't have to spin at a certain maximum revolution without seizing the bearings, it doesn't have to be made out of a certain material yet be strong enough and weigh less than a certain amount, it doesn't have to fit in a limited size cavity or connect to other components in a functional way. Yet engineered products have to have enough creativity in them to accomplish all of that and more.

    Software engineering is no different. If lines of code are considered like bolts, screws and components; all of which provide some functionality. Then there are as many individual pieces in any application you use today, be it games, Word, Mozilla, than there are in a space shuttle or strokes of a brush by Monet.

    The real disappointment is that the art and creativity that engineers produce is rarely recognized or appreciated. And it should be. It is so creative, in fact, that most people don't even know it's there or could understand it even if it was explained to them.

    Engineers have their own wu and it is very, very strong.

  • by jameshowison (162886) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @01:46PM (#21857662) Homepage
    If you like this stuff then you'll like this academic article:

    March, J. G. 1991, 'Exploration, and exploitation of organizational learning', Organization Science 2(1), 71-87.

    As I understand it March argues that new participants are required to learn new ways of doing things (just as the FTA does). March goes further though and argues that some kinds of organizations (often unconsciously) force 'rapid socialization' on new participants, bringing them in line with the groupthink quickly. He argues for a balanced socialization period, in which the organization can actually learn from the novel perspective (although not so long that the organization doesn't get back to exploiting its knowledge).

    There's lots of good literature citing this article too.
  • No, wait, I'm not - let's all play backetball left handed, and for money.
  • For years I've seen this exact scenario repeat itself. The supposed "professional" becoming so fixated on doing something one way that he no longer sees the potential of the tools beyond his own everyday use of them. While at the same time, the seemingly "ignorant" guy manages to upstage the professional simply because they don't yet know the "limitations" of the tools.

    The problem is how does one prevent themselves from becoming too complacent with the tools after they're convinced that their own methods ar

Some people have a great ambition: to build something that will last, at least until they've finished building it.

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