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March 13, 2006 » 10:21 pm

Usability and Encouraging Expert Usage

I was at SuperHappyDevHouse last Saturday with the rest of the Hyperscope crew. At around 2am, a group of us started having this great conversation about usability. Late night serendipity — you’ve got to love it.    (KCT)

Tony Chang asked us what we thought the most frequently pressed button was in Microsoft Office. We all guessed wrong. The correct answer is “Paste.” It turns out that practically no one uses Ctl-V to paste in Office. This, of course, was stunning news to all of us developer types, because we all use Ctl-V regularly.    (KCU)

Tony’s point was that real-world data trumps so-called expertise, a point that was hammered into all of us over and over again at the FLOSS Usability Sprints.    (KCV)

Microsoft’s response to this data was to enlarge the Paste button. (See Jensen Harris‘s Bay CH I talk for more on Office usability.) This response troubles me. On the one hand, it enhances the usability of the application for novices, which is a good thing. On the other hand, it does nothing to encourage users to learn the keyboard shortcuts.    (KCW)

Doug Engelbart often decries the misguided notion of “user friendliness everywhere” by saying that we would not want a world where everyone rode tricycles. Tricycles serve their purpose, but eventually, most people upgrade to bikes.    (KCX)

How can we design our apps that are usable for novice usage, but that also encourage expert usage? In other words, How do we design bikes with training wheels rather than bicycles? In the Office example, I would argue that there’s value in encouraging expert behavior and that emphasizing the Paste button is counter-productive in this regard.    (KCY)

Pie Menus are an excellent example of usable design that encourages expert usage. They address a novice need, but they also encourage expert behavior, because calling commands is associated with a physical gesture that becomes part of a user’s muscle memory.    (KCZ)

At RecentChangesCamp, Ward Cunningham talked about one of his challenges at Eclipse Foundation. He observed that the core Eclipse developers used the tool much differently than most users, an experience that was far more powerful and hence, far more gratifying. In typical Ward fashion, he’s trying to create a social space in which the core developers share their “aha” experiences with Eclipse as a means to encourage expert usage.    (KD0)

There are definitely cultural aspects of encouraging expert usage, but I also wonder if there are affordances that we should be encouraging in the design of the technology itself.    (KD1)

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One Response to “Usability and Encouraging Expert Usage”

  1. I think we can learn a lot here from studying the patterns used in the best videogames. The ideas here are connected: http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?298

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