"The handles of a craftsman's tools bespeak an absolute simplicity, the plainest forms affording the greatest range of possibilities for the user's hand.
That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome; the anticipation of outcomes guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace." - William Gibson, 'All Tomorrow's Parties' Chapter 31
i am rereading All Tomorrow's Parties and when i came across this one-sentence paragraph i stopped in momentary awe of the clarity and conciseness of this rather deep concept.
i spoke the other night to a woman in her 50s who has just recently bought a Mac. she finds it far easier to use than she ever did the PC. however, she says she's still overwhelmed by tasks put upon her to organize information and figure out how to get information back. another woman in her early 60s who was part of the conversation and who also recently (2 years ago) started using a Mac affirmed this. a man in his 30s, another Mac user, related he didn't have problems using the Mac, but felt limited as to what he was able to do when faced with the tasks of storing and retrieving information; that he was put through far too many steps to do what he wanted to.
this really goes to show the limitations of simply producing usable software according to the rigors of current usability science and accepted best practice. we as developers also have to provide something akin to the simplicity of a craftsman's tools. perfectly shaped, perfectly simple, perfectly adept, with no anticipation of outcome.
it is the anticipation of outcome that we see so commonly in our software's design that, IMHO, cripples it's usefulness in the hands of our users.
we are working on solutions to this for KDE4, things that will change how people work with the information that flows through their machines. things that are orthogonal to, and deeper in the software stack than the layer which the usability practice of today concentrates on.
i mentioned to Peyton, my soon to be 5 years old son, that a scratch on his leg was healing well. he said, "I don't know how it is doing that."
i replied, smiling, "that's odd, isn't it? our bodies can do things that we don't even know how they do it. they do things without us needing to understand how." (yes, i also speak w/out capital letters ;)
he thought about this for a moment and then said, "[our bodies] sometimes say things to us, but we can't understand them."