A Tech Frustrations reader, who is also a friend, recently commented that she does "not use technology to its fullest". She wrote the comment on Facebook, and it sparked a lively conversation about whether or not we should feel bad if we don't use every feature included with a technology product. Many of us feel like there is some "shame" in not using every feature of a product we've purchased as though we may not be getting our money's worth out of it. "Not so" said another friend. He pointed out that not every feature is designed for every user. He says it's OK for us to have a "take it or leave it" attitude toward product features.
When I borrow a DVD from Netflix, it’s often capable of displaying subtitles in German, Spanish, French and Japanese. I don't use those features, nor do I feel like I've wasted any money by not using them. Cell phones, PCs and other technology products aren't any different.
As my smart friend (who also designs and builds technology products) pointed out, “If there are enhanced usability features they should be so natural, obvious, or self-teaching as to provide high value for little effort. The complex features may bring joy to the technology connoisseur while not creating difficulty for the common user. It may be ego, or it may be the fact I do some technology design, but if I have issues with any consumer product I would blame the design first.” I liked that statement because I find it a lot easier to blame a faceless designer than myself. But I’ve noticed that a bunch of us blame ourselves first when it comes to technology.
It can’t be easy to be a product designer, so in defense of them, I have a story. A few weeks ago my son came home from college for a weekend visit. (Not to see me, of course, but he did stay at our house :) As I drove him back to school on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, he grabbed my phone and offered to “tune it up” so that the apps would run faster. I gladly accepted the offer. (And it wasn’t lost on me that my business-major son was helping his mom with a computer science degree use some very pervasive technology). I only hoped he could offer a few suggestions to help with some of the apps that are totally non-intuitive. Imagine my surprise as he darted from screen to screen clicking and swiping. I told him to slow down and explain what he was doing and on multiple occasions I asked, “How did you figure that out?” to which he’d replied, “It was intuitive.” Hmm, it hadn’t been intuitive to me. So I just want to recognize that the designers have a challenge on their hands. What’s intuitive to one person isn’t necessarily intuitive to another.
Anyway, back to my smart friend’s comment about features being natural, obvious, and self-teaching. He pointed me to a very interesting and entertaining video about product design. And that reminded me of my smarty-pants son’s struggle with a door he encountered in Sweden earlier this year (see 2nd paragraph).
What’s the point to these stories? I want people to realize that if they are having trouble with a product, rather than letting their blood pressure rise, it’s OK to recognize that the product may not be all that well designed. Basically, it’s not you, it’s them. As for me, I’m going to try to be bolder about using my technology products and try to start out with a better attitude. My first success story occurred last night as I sat down with my PC, a new library card, a cancelled Audible.com subscription ($15/month), and the name “Hoopla” (and "Overdrive", "Amazon Prime", and "Prospector") written on a sheet of paper. I’d been wanting to try out one of these free audio book services for a while and finally had the time to investigate them in a relaxed way. Guess what?! It was super easy. Within 10 minutes I had 17-day access to a new audio book via my PC and phone (via Hoopla). And it’s my latest book club assignment (The Cove by Ron Rash). So at least the first attempt is a big success! Earlier today I downloaded the Hoopla app on my phone and that was even easier. I wish there was a way to listen to the books via my iPod Nano, but I’m happy to walk with my heavier phone since the price is right - free. (I most often listen to audio books while walking on the Cathy Fromme Prairie, washing dishes, and folding laundry).
So next time you experience a Tech Frustration, take a deep breath, don't be a George Costanza, and just remember, it’s not you, it's them.
Do you have any Tech Frustrations? If so, tell me about them on the Tech Frustrations web site.
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