Feeling Overwhelmed

I couldn’t help but to keep thinking about my post “What is Usability?” long after I pressed the “Publish” button.  As much as I like Krug’s definition of usability, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it is missing something:

…usability really just means making sure that something works well: that a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can use the thing–whether it’s a Web site, a fighter jet, or a revolving door– for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.

I just couldn’t quite put my finger on what that something really was.  I tried to let it go and tackle to seemingly impossible pile of work I have to do, but I just couldn’t get it out of my head.  I started to stress out, and that’s when it hit me…

Preusability Issue: Overwhelming Your Users

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  Then, when I started reflecting on my recent experiences with unusable software, it hit me:  most of the time, I gave up before I started.  I didn’t feel frustrated, I simply felt overwhelmed.  This is a very important difference.

I am an amateur musician, and have at various times in the last decade attempted to make music on my computer.  I have primarily used Reason, and Cubase, but I have never gotten very far.  Why?  Because when I start to use the software, I get in there, click a few buttons, and feel overwhelmed with the perceived complexity of it.  I then promptly shut it down.  I don’t give software a chance to frustrate me, because I’m gone before I’ve really started.

The problem of feeling overwhelmed is not limited to advanced music making software. I am currently using a BlackBerry.  I love it… for the most part.  It’s my first smart phone experience, and we’re currently in our newlywed phase.  I look into the shiny surface, smiling, and I see me smiling back.  We do everything together.  She makes me feel secure when I’m in an awkward social setting.  I feel better when walking down the street, holding her (in my) hand.  I love to turn her on in the morning, but have recently just kept her turned on all night…. Ack, I digress.

My new love aside, sometimes I want to change the options on my BlackBerry.  And on those occasions, I have ventured into the depths of the Options menu only to find myself completely overwhelmed by the staggering lists upon lists of options.  Not knowing where to start, I just back out.  Granted, in reality, if I took 20 minutes to learn the options, I would probably have no problem finding what I was looking for in the future. The real issue here is that the presentation made me feel as though overcoming the complexity would require too much effort and I left before even trying to accomplish my original goal.

About Jonathan

Following an undergraduate degree in computer science, some worldly adventures, and years in the software industry, I find myself back at school getting a masters degree in Human Computer Interaction. And I love it.
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