Friday, August 05, 2005

Getting back to accessibility and usability - we should never leave it!

An interesting paper by Kevin Carey titled Accessibility: The Current Situation and New Directions in the 44th Issue of Ariadne (A journal I had never heard of before Steven Downes pointed to it). In it Kevin makes some interesting observations and reflections, such as:
...I have already used the term 'functional gap' to describe the inadequate transactional outcome between digital information systems and people. I use this term most deliberately because the public policy analysis of why people have problems with digital information systems, notably those dependent upon the PC, has been predominantly anthropocentric. If only, politicians say, we could get alienated people to master word processing, the world would be a better place.

Regardless of whether or not this is true, the much more crucial issue is why these people have problems with PC/Windows bundles when they have no problems using VCR equipment, navigating the Sky Electronic Programme Guide, manipulating mobile phone settings, using SMS or, in a different field, passing a driving test, understanding the soccer off-side rule and finding items in supermarkets.

We should see this functionality gap as arising because of two major factors: the lack of skills or incentive on the part of the human user on the one hand, and the deficiency in the design of the system and its user interface on the other. There is, to cite an apparently trivial example, something perverse about a system which requires the activation of the 'on' switch to turn it off. Computer users with an incentive to master a system, easily forget its perversity until it either spontaneously modifies itself or an accidental operation is performed where in either case the correction is not susceptible to rational investigation. In a fundamental sense, almost universally overlooked by analysts and lobbyists who have an obsession with skills development, training in the use of systems is a cost shift from the producer to the consumer; the better the design, the more intuitive the functionality, the lower the degree of skill and training which are required to close the gap between system and user.

An interesting, if perhaps a little dense writing style making many profound points.

1 comment:

roseg said...

Yes - very clever and interesting piece, though I'm glad he's not designing computers if his writing style is anything to go by - I feel like offering to edit his work! :-) Thanks for the link.