Why Import/Export - A broken metaphor. MoreSemantic thoughts from the underground.

21 Mar 2008 - 11:43am
577 reads
Scott Berkun
2008

In innovation jargon, this phenomenon is known as dominant design. The
question of "too late" is less about how how superior a new design is, and
more about how willing people are to pay the learning & change costs
required to learn the new thing. In the Apple Play/pause case, there are
small learning costs: it's the removal of one of two redundant buttons most
are already familiar with. In the QWERTY case the learning costs are huge:
it would take hours for someone to become half as proficient with DVORAK or
some other theoretically superior keyboard design as they already are with
QWERTY.

Designs like QWERTY often come along for the ride on some other innovation -
Sholes wasn't worried much about optimal human performance, he was trying to
make a decent, non-jamming typewriter. But once the typewriter was
successful, and accepted, it'd be very hard to sell a product that offered
20% efficiency gains, at the price of a week of typing misery: the percieved
reward is low. Many good innovations never mainstream because no one can
figure out a good business model for selling it it, or for getting people
interested in improving something they don't think about anymore.

In innovation history often designs like QWERTY are *only* replaced when the
entire technology gets left behind: the day voice recognition, or mind
reading, takes over, QWERTY will become a memory. (Similiarly, few worried
about improving Morse code once we had telephones). But often that new
technology brings along with it some unanticipated design equivalent of
QWERTY that we realize later wasn't quite right, and the same issues of
dominant design and learning costs come into play again

So the good news is that designers will have plenty of work long into the
future - or at least plenty of things to complain about :)

-Scott

----- Original Message -----
From: "W Evans" <wkevans4 at gmail.com>
To: "Matt Theakston" <mattcmonfeet at gmail.com>
Cc: "IXDA list" <discuss at ixda.org>
Sent: Friday, March 21, 2008 6:50 AM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Why Import/Export - A broken metaphor.
MoreSemantic thoughts from the underground.

> It is possible. Apple did it when they removed the "Stop" button from the
> iPod and from iTunes. Before that, it was commonly accepted that an
> interface for a player had to have Play, Pause, Stop, Forward and Rewind -
> even though Stop only makes sense when the device is a tape deck. People
> have accepted that. So I think it is possible.
>
> On Fri, Mar 21, 2008 at 10:42 AM, Matt Theakston <mattcmonfeet at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>
> > When is it too late to change an "accepted cultural convention in the
> > computer world"?

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