Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Usability challenge of the day (Jitterbug)

In the courses I teach about human-computer interaction, I typically open each class with an example of a usability problem. I'm putting these online, in case others find them useful.

A couple of years ago ads for a new cell phone for older users, called Jitterbug, were everywhere on TV. (The ads were annoying, to be honest, but maybe that's just me.) Online, here's how the Jitterbug was advertised:

Introducing the world's simplest, cell phone experience [sic]...
It doesn't play games, take pictures, or give you the weather.
For people like me, who want a cell phone that's easy to use.

That sounds great, doesn't it? I wondered how they manage it, and so I looked up the Jitterbug user manual. Here's the table of contents.

So while you can't play games or take pictures, you can manage a list of contacts, add ring tones, dial by voice, send and receive text messages, and do things like "Setting Your Samsung WEP 470 Premium Bluetooth Headset To Pairing Mode." 

Simple? Maybe. Including the front and back matter, the Jitterbug manual is over 200 pages long. This isn't a usability problem per se; rather it's a challenge--making complex functionality available to users who don't necessarily want to learn very much about how a device works. 

I can use this example to motivate discussion in different areas:
  • The concept of progessive disclosure--incrementally revealing advanced functionality only when it's requested or needed.
  • Don Norman's concept of visibility and the challenges of making functionality apparent by inspection or exploration.
  • Ted Nelson's claim that "Any system which cannot be well taught to a layman in ten minutes, by a tutor in the presence of a responding setup, is too complicated."
  • The challenge of marketing a given product as being more usable rather than being able to do more. ("Product X can do twice as much" seems to be more appealing than "Product X is much easier to use.")

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