Thought experiment: Law against usability that's TOO good?

9 Jan 2010 - 12:09pm
4 years ago
8 replies
717 reads
R. Groot
2006

Dear all,

Since some time I have been playing around with something and I would like
to share it with you to pick your brains. I see it as a thought experiment
and therefore it might seem a little overboard. But nevertheless I would be
very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

-- My contemplation --
Companies like Google and Apple have gotten so skilled in "getting it
right", in having such an outstanding user experience, that we are drawn to
their products like months to a flame.

The shear range of products and services that they offer, means that in the
foreseeable future we will have stored ALL our data with these companies. As
well as these companies knowing about all our whereabouts and network
presence.

There's all whole range of positive and negative scenarios that will be
possible from this point that we could think of happening.

-- My question --
Should there be some sort of law that forbids making such damn good, user
attractive products?

Met vriendelijke groet,
Rein Groot
----------------------------------------------------------
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/reingroot
Twitter: www.twitter.com/rein_groot
Portfolio: www.reingroot.nl/portfolio

Comments

9 Jan 2010 - 12:43pm
Jaanus Kase
2008

There%u2019s a difference between usability, and the business
objectives for which usability and design is being used. You are
talking about business objectives. Usability is a method to achieve
those business objectives, and is a general societal concept next to
things like Internet, electricity etc. It just is; it does not carry
values on its own. Values and meanings are attached to products and
their usability through business objectives, agendas and politics.

What you are really talking about is oversight so that companies
would not abuse their power. That is good and necessary, but is
orthogonal from usability.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48267

9 Jan 2010 - 11:06pm
Christine Boese
2006

I think I'd have to respectfully disagree, Jaanus.

Your position appears to be a variation of what is usually referred to as
the "neutral tool" argument, a position that pops up in many different
contexts and situations, from the U.S. NRA slogan, "Guns don't kill people,
people kill people," to the extrapolation that language or an interface can
be "neutral window pane" of communication in service of whatever task its
masters put it to.

In academic circles, this idea is widely considered completely disproven,
that there are no neutral tools, no such thing as "objectivity" in
journalism, no clear window pane of language that communicates unbiased
ideas, that objects themselves cannot exist outside of their
socially-constructed context and use, contexts and uses that must always be
considered saturated with the values and social mores of the culture that
created them.

In other words, there are no neutral tools. A hammer or a screwdriver may
appear to be objects that can't act with value judgments in and of
themselves without a values-saturated agent to execute them, but it is the
seemingly invisible or culturally-unconscious values that are most deeply
embedded within tools, that in one culture, a handle is obviously where you
put your hand, how could anyone put it anywhere else? But another culture
can from the outside see deeper signifiers and embedded class assumptions
about the tool and its use.

That's how they talk about it, in the abstract land of academics. The
argument passes muster in common conversation, around NRA people, or just
general parliance. Even US journalists who talk about "objectivity" pay lip
service to it in public, even though every course they ever took on the
subject opened with it being exposed as an impossibility, that perspective
and POV and cultural conditioning leads to even a seemingly invisible "tint"
of cultural assumptions to even the most neutral-tool sounding language.
(European journalists rid themselves of the illogic trap a long time ago).

So we might ask, can usability exist outside of the business objectives? I
don't believe they can. Unspoken assumptions of those business objectives
saturate every aspect of the artifact being tested and the usability testing
framework itself. Nothing is a neutral conveyor of something else. Or, as
Marshal McLuhan pointed out, the kinds of conversations you have by
candlelight are necessarily different than the kinds of conversations you
have under electric light. The medium is the message.

Chris

On Sat, Jan 9, 2010 at 4:43 AM, Jaanus Kase <jaanus at gmail.com> wrote:

> There%u2019s a difference between usability, and the business
> objectives for which usability and design is being used. You are
> talking about business objectives. Usability is a method to achieve
> those business objectives, and is a general societal concept next to
> things like Internet, electricity etc. It just is; it does not carry
> values on its own. Values and meanings are attached to products and
> their usability through business objectives, agendas and politics.
>
> What you are really talking about is oversight so that companies
> would not abuse their power. That is good and necessary, but is
> orthogonal from usability.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48267
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

10 Jan 2010 - 10:33am
James Page
2008

Christine,

You make an intresting point.

Some academic claim that Usability is not Science but instead an ethic. See
Paul Cairns & Harold Thimbleby 2008 http://en.scientificcommons.org/42316368
I am not fully convinced of this but I think it is an intresting argument.

If Usability is an Ethic then the objectivity of Usability falls under the
Phislisopical argument about objectivity in Ethics.

Thomas Nagel (1979) made the argument that while a particluar judgment may
not be objective, the responce can be. For example, human suffering gives
everyone reason to do what he or she can to alleviate it. Kant said that
even though Ethical judgements are comands that can not be true or false,
they still can be correct.
You can view a lecture of Nagels here :
http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/nagel80.pdf on
Objectivty.

Of cource there are arguments that Objectivity is subjective, but when this
holds true we fall into traps abouts Universal rights and wrongs.

Do you think that Usability could be an Ethic?

All the best

James

2010/1/10 Christine Boese <christine.boese at gmail.com>

> I think I'd have to respectfully disagree, Jaanus.
>
> Your position appears to be a variation of what is usually referred to as
> the "neutral tool" argument, a position that pops up in many different
> contexts and situations, from the U.S. NRA slogan, "Guns don't kill people,
> people kill people," to the extrapolation that language or an interface can
> be "neutral window pane" of communication in service of whatever task its
> masters put it to.
>
> In academic circles, this idea is widely considered completely disproven,
> that there are no neutral tools, no such thing as "objectivity" in
> journalism, no clear window pane of language that communicates unbiased
> ideas, that objects themselves cannot exist outside of their
> socially-constructed context and use, contexts and uses that must always be
> considered saturated with the values and social mores of the culture that
> created them.
>
> In other words, there are no neutral tools. A hammer or a screwdriver may
> appear to be objects that can't act with value judgments in and of
> themselves without a values-saturated agent to execute them, but it is the
> seemingly invisible or culturally-unconscious values that are most deeply
> embedded within tools, that in one culture, a handle is obviously where you
> put your hand, how could anyone put it anywhere else? But another culture
> can from the outside see deeper signifiers and embedded class assumptions
> about the tool and its use.
>
> That's how they talk about it, in the abstract land of academics. The
> argument passes muster in common conversation, around NRA people, or just
> general parliance. Even US journalists who talk about "objectivity" pay lip
> service to it in public, even though every course they ever took on the
> subject opened with it being exposed as an impossibility, that perspective
> and POV and cultural conditioning leads to even a seemingly invisible
> "tint"
> of cultural assumptions to even the most neutral-tool sounding language.
> (European journalists rid themselves of the illogic trap a long time ago).
>
> So we might ask, can usability exist outside of the business objectives? I
> don't believe they can. Unspoken assumptions of those business objectives
> saturate every aspect of the artifact being tested and the usability
> testing
> framework itself. Nothing is a neutral conveyor of something else. Or, as
> Marshal McLuhan pointed out, the kinds of conversations you have by
> candlelight are necessarily different than the kinds of conversations you
> have under electric light. The medium is the message.
>
> Chris
>
> On Sat, Jan 9, 2010 at 4:43 AM, Jaanus Kase <jaanus at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > There%u2019s a difference between usability, and the business
> > objectives for which usability and design is being used. You are
> > talking about business objectives. Usability is a method to achieve
> > those business objectives, and is a general societal concept next to
> > things like Internet, electricity etc. It just is; it does not carry
> > values on its own. Values and meanings are attached to products and
> > their usability through business objectives, agendas and politics.
> >
> > What you are really talking about is oversight so that companies
> > would not abuse their power. That is good and necessary, but is
> > orthogonal from usability.
> >
> >
> > . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> > Posted from the new ixda.org
> > http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48267
> >
> >
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> > List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> > List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> >
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

10 Jan 2010 - 12:59pm
jet
2008

R. Groot wrote:
> Companies like Google and Apple have gotten so skilled in "getting it
> right", in having such an outstanding user experience, that we are drawn to
> their products like months to a flame.

They're also skilled in "buying companies who got it right" and "burying
it when they get it wrong". How many Google products were developed by
Google and how many were purchased?

Used Froogle lately? Do you use Google Video or do you use Youtube?
How's your iPod Hi-Fi, hockey puck mouse, or G4 Cube working out?

--
J. E. 'jet' Townsend, IDSA
Designer, Fabricator, Hacker
design: www.allartburns.org; hacking: www.flatline.net; HF: KG6ZVQ
PGP: 0xD0D8C2E8 AC9B 0A23 C61A 1B4A 27C5 F799 A681 3C11 D0D8 C2E8

10 Jan 2010 - 9:57pm
Jaanus Kase
2008

Christine,

I agree with what you say and I did not think that aspect through
enough when posting. I subscribe to everything that you say;
additionally, I like the research that says that our language affects
our thinking, and that it has been proven that the thought patterns of
different languages are different. Even though language is supposed to
be value-neutral, it does affect thinking.

One of the most important values attributed to usability that I know
of, is that it is generally meant to improve human condition in the
widest sense. That is precisely what made me respond to the initial
post. If companies are doing a good job with improving human
condition with their products, and using these products to accomplish
their possibly malicious business objectives, then in my view it is
not right to make the products "less usable" and thereby make the
human condition worse than it could be. Instead, the response should
be to scrutinize the businesses on the other, "backend" side, to
make sure that they do not abuse their power.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48267

10 Jan 2010 - 10:14pm
Christine Boese
2006

I had a feeling we were both honing in on the same goals, Jaanus, and
weren't really too far off. I'm just sensitive to the neutral tool argument
because at one time I tried to hold to that reasoning, and was shown how it
didn't hold up.

But we hold the same values, and I really like that we're thinking about
these things, and talking about how to negotiate those complex territories.

Chris

On Sun, Jan 10, 2010 at 1:57 PM, Jaanus Kase <jaanus at gmail.com> wrote:

> Christine,
>
> I agree with what you say and I did not think that aspect through
> enough when posting. I subscribe to everything that you say;
> additionally, I like the research that says that our language affects
> our thinking, and that it has been proven that the thought patterns of
> different languages are different. Even though language is supposed to
> be value-neutral, it does affect thinking.
>
> One of the most important values attributed to usability that I know
> of, is that it is generally meant to improve human condition in the
> widest sense. That is precisely what made me respond to the initial
> post. If companies are doing a good job with improving human
> condition with their products, and using these products to accomplish
> their possibly malicious business objectives, then in my view it is
> not right to make the products "less usable" and thereby make the
> human condition worse than it could be. Instead, the response should
> be to scrutinize the businesses on the other, "backend" side, to
> make sure that they do not abuse their power.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48267
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

11 Jan 2010 - 3:00am
Dimiter Simov
2006

Check Usability for evil http://www.usability4evil.com/.
“Discover purposefully designed interfaces which make users emotionally
involved in doing something that benefits you more than them.”

Chris Nodder made a great presentation on the topic back in 2008.

Dimiter Simov
Lucrat Ltd. www.lucrat.net
Netage Solutions Inc. www.netagesolutions.com

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Christine Boese
Sent: Mon, Jan 11, 2010 5:15
To: Jaanus Kase
Cc: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Thought experiment: Law against usability that's
TOO good?

I had a feeling we were both honing in on the same goals, Jaanus, and
weren't really too far off. I'm just sensitive to the neutral tool argument
because at one time I tried to hold to that reasoning, and was shown how it
didn't hold up.

But we hold the same values, and I really like that we're thinking about
these things, and talking about how to negotiate those complex territories.

Chris

On Sun, Jan 10, 2010 at 1:57 PM, Jaanus Kase <jaanus at gmail.com> wrote:

> Christine,
>
> I agree with what you say and I did not think that aspect through
> enough when posting. I subscribe to everything that you say;
> additionally, I like the research that says that our language affects
> our thinking, and that it has been proven that the thought patterns of
> different languages are different. Even though language is supposed to
> be value-neutral, it does affect thinking.
>
> One of the most important values attributed to usability that I know
> of, is that it is generally meant to improve human condition in the
> widest sense. That is precisely what made me respond to the initial
> post. If companies are doing a good job with improving human
> condition with their products, and using these products to accomplish
> their possibly malicious business objectives, then in my view it is
> not right to make the products "less usable" and thereby make the
> human condition worse than it could be. Instead, the response should
> be to scrutinize the businesses on the other, "backend" side, to
> make sure that they do not abuse their power.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48267
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>
________________________________________________________________
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To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
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11 Jan 2010 - 10:28am
jet
2008

R. Groot wrote:
> Companies like Google and Apple have gotten so skilled in "getting it
> right", in having such an outstanding user experience, that we are drawn to
> their products like months to a flame.

They're also skilled in "buying companies who got it right" and "burying
it when they get it wrong". How many Google products were developed by
Google and how many were purchased?

Used Froogle lately? Do you use Google Video or do you use Youtube?
How's your iPod Hi-Fi, hockey puck mouse, or G4 Cube working out?

--
J. E. 'jet' Townsend, IDSA
Designer, Fabricator, Hacker
design: www.allartburns.org; hacking: www.flatline.net; HF: KG6ZVQ
PGP: 0xD0D8C2E8 AC9B 0A23 C61A 1B4A 27C5 F799 A681 3C11 D0D8 C2E8

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