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  Sunday, July 18, 2004

New Scientist: Polite computers win users' hearts and minds. The trick, according to a researcher who has analysed users' responses to their computers, is to make operating systems and software more "civilised" by saying sorry more often. That way people won't feel they are stupid or at fault, so they become less apprehensive about using computers, and perhaps more productive and creative. [Tomalak's Realm]

The researchers conclude that users were happier with the more polite application, but there's no indication of whether they made better choices or were more accurate or productive with the emotionally satisfying system, which is more the point that Don Norman addresses in Emotional Design. Still, it's interesting research. There's really no reason error messages have to be belittling of users. My developers have been trained to have me read and tweak their error messages; they don't always come out more friendly, but at least there's some consistency and readability to the output.

8:18:49 PM    Questions? Comments? Flames? []

There's a thread today on Slashdot in response to an article on  NewsForge asserting that "Open source usability is a technical problem we can solve on our own."

The claim that caught my interest is this:

But If I want to learn how to write phrases understandable by users or what colors to use that still allow color-blind people to use my software or how to best name categories for efficient navigation, I can do nothing but listen to people's opinions in the matter. Where is the open source community's pool of facts and knowledge covering usability issues?

This is, of course, nonsense. Yes, everyone has an opinion on what's usable, just as all programmers have an opinion on what makes effective code style, for example. But there are rules about how to write understandable phrases, just like there are readily-accessible guidelines about what colors to use or not to use. Sounds to me like the problem for open source developers is they just don't know who to talk to and where to go to find the wealth of usability and HCI and IA information that's available.  Sheesh, they can attend the same classes and meetings and conferences that the rest of us do!

5:28:01 PM    Questions? Comments? Flames? []

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