Friday quote: Friction

“If the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the Industrial Designer has failed.”

Henry Dreyfuss, Designing for People, 1955


Cognitive friction
is one thing, and generally a result rather than a deliberate strategy; process friction is something else, and can very much be a deliberate strategy, as well as an accidental consequence of poor or badly thought-out interaction design. This is closer to what Dreyfuss is getting at, I think.

Biting Apple

BBC News headline, 28 September 2007

Interesting to see the BBC’s summary of the current iPhone update story: “Apple issues an update which damages iPhones that have been hacked by users”. I’m not sure that’s quite how Apple’s PR people would have put it, but it’s interesting to see that whoever writes those little summaries for the BBC website found it easiest to sum up the story in this way. This is being portrayed as Apple deliberately, strategically damaging the phones, rather than an update unintentionally causing problems with unlocked or modified phones.

Regardless of what the specific issue is here, and whether unmodified iPhones have also lost functionality because of some problem with the update, can’t we just strip out all this nonsense? How many people who wanted an iPhone also wanted to be locked in to AT&T or whatever the local carrier will be in each market? Anyone? Who wants to be locked in to anything? What a waste of technical effort, sweat and customer goodwill: it’s utterly pathetic.

This is exactly what Fred Reichheld‘s ‘Bad profits’ idea calls out so neatly:

Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored, or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad. Bad profits come from unfair or misleading pricing. Bad profits arise when companies save money by delivering a lousy customer experience. Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value.

If bad profits are earned at the expense of customers, good profits are earned with customers’ enthusiastic cooperation. A company earns good profits when it so delights its customers that they willingly come back for more—and not only that, they tell their friends and colleagues to do business with the company.

What is the question that can tell good profits from bad? Simplicity itself: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?

If your iPhone’s just turned into the most stylish paperweight in the office, are you likely to recommend it to a colleague?

More to the point, if Apple had moved – in the first place – into offering telecom services to go with the hardware, with high levels of user experience and a transparent pricing system, how many iPhone users and Mac evangelists wouldn’t have at least considered changing?

Mentor Teaching Machines: The ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Textbooks

Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines: Applications of SI Metric, 1971
An Introduction to SI Metric and Applications of SI Metric, published by Mentor Textbook Teaching Machines of London, 1971.

Back in January, in a post looking at the use of forcing functions in education, I mentioned a type of textbook I remembered having somewhere which guided the user through learning in a kind of ‘choose your own adventure‘ style – depending on the answers the reader gave, he or she is routed through the book in a different order, with areas of weakness addressed in more detail to ensure better understanding before allowing the reader to progress to the next level.

At the time of the original post I mocked up how I remembered the pages looked – luckily, after a house move, I’m pleased to say I’ve now found the two textbooks I had, from 1971, and – after the jump – I’ve posted a set of photos to illustrate the system better. I love the way they’re described as textbook teaching machines (following B F Skinner’s lead [PDF]): this really is the application of machine design, or at least pseudo-programming, to a textbook, and, while I don’t know how effective the system really was in terms of advancing readers’ understanding, this type of thinking must have the potential to be relevant in other areas of interaction design…

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New, more concrete opportunities

Tower A, Brunel University
School of Engineering & Design, Tower A, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex.

After a month of lifting and shifting boxes, frantic cleaning, driving lots of different vehicles, and dealing with bureaucracy, I’ve now moved house and started my PhD at Brunel; with broadband now set up, and enough space to sit with a laptop amid the not-yet-unpacked boxes, I’ll hopefully be able to get back to regular blogging. Many thanks to everyone who’s sent examples and comments in the interim.

I now both live and work in semi-Brutalist structures; it’ll be interesting to see what effect that architectural influence has.

The generally poor performance of this site over the past couple of months (database queries timing out leading to blank pages or internal WordPress error messages) has been frustrating and I will be moving hosts at some point in due course. There may be some redesign or at least restructuring of certain parts of the site too, as already the PhD has made me think somewhat more analytically about how to classify and explain methods of control and ‘design for behaviour change’.