Programmer`s ego ( I was one, I understand)

Subject: Programmer`s ego ( I was one, I understand)
From: Pierre Roberge <PRoberge -at- FAMICTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 2 Sep 1998 09:59:11 -0400


I have something to say about programmer's ego. I was a programmer (6
years ago), I am now studying in Human Factors Engineering, I have three
years of experience in user interface design, focus groups, interviews,
observation, task analysis, prototyping and I have dealt with
programmers a great deal telling them how user interface should be like.

Programmers think that they know what the user want but they don`t.
They are experts at building software, that is true. BUT building
something and using something are totally different things. For
example, building a new braking system for a car requires a more
complete understanding of what is happening than the person who actually
presses on the brake pedal need to know. This is where the problem is.
Programmers think that the user need to know everything about the way
things work in order to use it properly. That is COMPLETELY FALSE.
They usually design UI crowding them with all the parameters they need
to take into account and they don`t understand that the users don`t want
to know and set all those parameters they only want to learn and set the
minimum number of parameters so that they can attain their goal.

In the braking system example, the users don`t need to see a needle
indicating the level of oil pressure fluctuate each time they press on
the gas pedal because it does not help them to brake better. BTW, why
have a Tachometer on an automatic car, is it really useful?

Programmers and all people actually constructing things think that the
people who use their products care about how they solved this or that.
THIS IS NOT TRUE. Users could not care less. They only want to achieve
an objective (stopping the car) and they don`t care about the mechanisms
involved to allow them to do so. Whether it stops becaue of oil
pressure or air pressure or because of a parachut. The only thing they
want to know is what they need to do to stop, press the button, pull a
lever and that is it. Only techies want to know how everything work,
but they make up only 10% of the population. Paradoxically they are the
ones that build the products. That is why everything is so difficult to
use. The WHAT and the HOW are two completely different things.

The WHAT is what does it do. The HOW is how does it work. If someone
(systems' analysts) has the responsibility to define WHAT a product will
do and also HOW it will work then you can be assured that the product
will be hard to use. Those two fields require different knowledge and

What the software industry need to understand is that they need
technical people that specialize in the tools (Programming languages,
OS, ...) and user-oriented people that specialize in usability issues.
Just like the housing industry, they have architects that draw plans of
usable and livable houses and carpenters that actually nail the pieces
together. The knowledge these two have overlap a bit but is for the
most part very different. I wouldn`t want a house designed by a
carpenter. For sure the house would be solid and durable but would it
be livable, cozy and nice to look at, I seriously doubt it.

Pierre Roberge
Technical Writer, Product Specification, UI designer
Famic Technologies 2000 Inc.
Montreal, Quebec

P.S. By the way, I am looking for contracts as a UI designer.

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