User friendliness doesn't mean derp

There seems to be this perception that if you prefer a user-friendly gadget, you must be a little bit derp.

There seems to be this perception that if you prefer a user-friendly gadget, you must be a little bit derp.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

It seems counter-intuitive to me.

When I invest in a gadget, I want something I can use; something that isn't going to take me several days to figure out. When I pick up a new thing for the first time, I want to be able to get around easily, with clearly labelled navigation and a user interface that's not going to get in the way.

Probably the best example of this for me is e-readers. So many people love the Kindle. I can appreciate what the Kindle offers (cheap books, a bookstore that's always in your pocket and so on), but I find the user interface so ugly and arduous compared to other e-readers that it's low on my preference list (a personal taste that's undoubtedly coloured by the fact that the first Kindle in my possession went completely kaput within a couple of weeks of arrival).

Meanwhile, I love my Kobo. When the very first Kobo was launched, it offered very little in the way of features — no dictionary, no store connection — but it was something I could pick up and use straight away. The Kobo Touch I have now is the best friend I never knew I was missing; it picked up the feature slack, yet still somehow managed to be very easy to use, even down to offering users a quick tour of the device upon switching it on for the first time.

Admittedly, the "user friendly = derp" argument hasn't filtered down to e-readers (yet), but it is around; visible most often when it comes to things like video-game platforms, smartphone operating systems and computer operating systems.

" iPhone users are drooling idiots " — you'll see this plastered everywhere (paraphrased for convenience), while iPhone users stick out their tongues at imaginary Android bank balances. Windows users decry Mac OS users, while others try to present "proof" that Windows users are the thickies. Meanwhile, the gaming world is a huge, tiered mess, where mobile gamers sit squarely on the bottom rung, with PC gamers lording their smug superiority over everyone else.

I get confused about my own place in the hierarchy. I find Windows easier to use than Mac, since it's the OS I grew up with; I used to play PC and console games a lot more, but nowadays I find mobile games a lot more relaxing (and creative ); and I have both an Android phone and an iPod Touch, neither of which I find difficult to use in the least.

We've reached a point where the bells and whistles don't have to be sacrificed to the arcane gods of useability. We can have our cake and, by golly, eat it too.

Further, though, hating on someone who uses something different to what you use seems like a colossal waste of precious energy that could be spent actually enjoying life.

Here's what user friendliness means to me: it means someone has actually sat down and thought carefully about how we interact with our devices, and designed the smoothest experience available. It means that somewhere, someone on a dev team actually gives a good goddamn about giving users a chance to be able to get the most out of what they are offering. It means that someone out there is smart enough to realise that people want to be able to use what they have bought.

And if you want to get into the guts of what you're using and tinker around, that option is available, too. But someone enjoying something differently doesn't mean they're a moron. So why not just leave 'em be, eh?

 

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