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Aug 2006

“Evolution, not Revolution”… And so He was right!

One aspect of our jobs as usability consultants is to make sure the products of our clients can be used with ease, efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction. The user is the most important parameter to us; we analyze affordances accordingly in order to make the whole interactivity experience pleasant.
While our field is mainly focused on interactions and interactive systems, it never acts on the Technology itself; it is given to us and our job is to vulgarize it… But who decides whether it is the right time for the users to cope with it and accept it?

If you are 30 years old and above, you probably understand what I am talking about. You are the generation of the CRT televisions, phonograph records, VHS videotapes and I do understand why you can hardly cope with the digital world that was, in fact, imposed on you.
You could have decided at some point to stick to your old technology but sooner than you expected you realized you were not even able to use your house plug to power it up! And, if you decided to “evolve” and follow the technology, you definitely shed some tears before packing all your records in the basement or paying thousands and thousands of dollars to make them compatible with the new technology…

As usability consultants, we do not have the word in deciding when or where a technology is to be deployed but we have the power to act on the product that uses a certain technology and it is our duty to make it transitional first and then usable.
Maybe it is time to start talking about the “Affordance of technology” as this would give us insight on how it works and on the impact of future technologies on their potential users.
Revolutionary technologies are emerging and will continue to emerge as long as science is still finding but for how long the users are ready to adapt?
“We are expecting NRAMs and MRAMs in a 2 year-span”, what is that supposed to mean?! Doesn’t it mean that I am going to have to change my system twice in a matter of 5 years? Doesn’t it mean that every single accessory whether hardware or software I have bought for the last 10 years will not be compatible with the new systems, or am I mistaken?
Why not a system that supports both? Why am I supposed to incline to the television suppliers and see two black stripes on my CRT television just because they decided it was time to go High Definition? Why not a mobile phone that supports both frequency modulation and Wi-Fi?

Being a usability consultant is like being the “devil’s advocate” to the new technologies. We iterate and reiterate to come up with something appealing to the user in using the new technology. However, if there is no technology transition, users will have to go back to zero at each new invention. I have files stuck in an old Maxtor hard drive because it is not compatible with my Pentium IV… Thumbs up for the user-centered technology!!

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