On the Dark Side of Usability

When a user interface “tries to offload as much ‘trivial’ mechanical thinking as possible to the machine,” it can produce negative results”.

This post sites a 2008 study by Christof van Nimwegen’s called The paradox of the guided user: assistance can be counter-effective, and while I don’t agree with the conclusions drawn from those results, I can align with the author’s caveat regarding the limited nature of the report.

Of course these conclusions are based on a limited experiment, with a limited sample size and test applications. The findings focused on only a certain type of interface. How well the experiments reflect the varied real world applications remains to be seen, but I think the real value of this paper is that of challenging common assumptions by presenting evidence on the contrary. We should not assume that a more user-friendly interface is necessarily better. Indeed—better for what, or for whom?

I assert that the “real value” of the post is not that it challenges common assumptions by presenting evidence to the contrary, but rather, that it reminds us not to confuse good interface with a well-intentioned1 interface – because we all know where that leads…

  1. Over-engineered, yet fails to address user needs.