In this Rice Cooker Critiques podcast, from Design Critique: Products for People, Tim and Tom talk extensively about the usability of several rice cookers. One of their conclusions is that instructions for cooking rice need to be printed on the actual rice cooker. I think the advice is sound and applies to many products: where possible, print instructions in a visible location for the user. This is one way that user help literally becomes part of the product.
Caroline Jarrett, a usability expert, recommended Tim and Tom's Design Critique podcast to me at the STC Conference. Rice Cooker Critiques was the first episode I listened to, and I found it easier on the ears than the User Experience podcast (which is also a good podcast), but I grew tired of listening to two guys talking about rice cookers for an hour (okay, I made it to about the 50 minute mark). There's something to be said for conciseness, and I know I'm guilty of this too in my podcasts. But basically podcasts that stretch beyond an hour, like Boagworld, are too long. After 45 minutes I time out.
That said, I liked their exchange and I felt empowered by their outlook and perspective on usability. I also felt like going out and buying a Fuzzy Logic Panasonic rice cooker and making rice for dinner.
One question came to mind while listening to the podcast. What's better, a simple product that does just a few things well, or a product that can do a number of things well but is more sophisticated to use? Usability is often a tradeoff. If you want a product that is so simple to use that you don't need instructions, it probably is a very simple product.
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