The Inmates Are Running the Asylum

I wanted to post a few notes and quotes about this great book by Alan Cooper: The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity.

The biggest ‘Aha!’ moment for me was when he talked about how technology products are not inherently anything. If they are confusing, frustrating, circuitous, rude, uncooperative, or stupid, it’s 100% our fault for designing and building them that way. If they are intuitive, forgiving, helpful, adaptive, and enjoyable, we get to take 100% of the credit.

Joking that an automatic-flush public urinal is more aware of his presence than the technology his uses every day, Cooper says:

Most software doesn’t know or care who is using it. In fact, none of the personal software on my personal computer seems to remember either me or anything about me. This is true in spite of the fact that it is constantly, repetitively, and exclusively used by me and by no one else.

On the prevalence of companies tossing half-baked products out there to see what sticks, Cooper advises against being “stupidly suicidal”:

Just because customer feedback improves your understanding of your product or service , you cannot then deduce that it is efficient, cheap, or even effective to toss random features at your clientele and see which ones are liked and which are disliked. In any market in which there is the least hint of competition, it is stupidly suicidal. Even when you are all alone in a market, it is a very wasteful method.

Cooper is a big proponent in using archetypal personas to guide the creation of exceptional products. He defies popular logic by suggesting that your product will satisfy the widest range of customers … if you design it for one single, well-defined, archetypal customer:

Personas are hypothetical archetypes of actual users. Although they are imaginary, they are defined with significant rigor and precision. To create a product that must satisfy a broad audience of users, logic will tell you to make it as broad in its functionality as possible to accommodate the most people. LOGIC IS WRONG. You will have far greater success by designing for one single person.

Finally, one overarching principle to guide the design and creation of technology products:

The number-one goal of all computer users is not to feel stupid.

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This entry was posted in Company culture, Product design, Usability, VOC. Bookmark the permalink.

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