Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The CEO Test

Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Maybe he was
having trouble using his software too?
Today, in yet another day of frustration using a variety of products, I have come up with a solution in the design world that would benefit us all. Before ANY products are sold, marketed, put before the public in any way ... every CEO in the world must use it and it must be witnessed and certified that THEY could make that item actually WORK. Isn't that a novel idea? Can you imagine, there would be no more need for Dilbert.
     If you don't know who Dilbert is, he is the creation of Scott Adams who used to work for AT&T. From the incidents there and emails he received after Dilbert was published in the daily newspaper, the number of things, ideas that didn't work but were verified by the senders were almost unbelievable. He said he got at least 200-300 such emails a day.  Yet as we may laugh, we also cry. No wonder modern life is so stressful. Just too many of the things we depend on simply don't work very well.
     Case in point. Today, I was trying to see if my iMac would show Netflix movies. It has a 24" screen so, when I am crafting, why not have something larger than an iPad screen, right? I have an account but have never tried it on my iMac before. It works just fine on my TV and my iPad ... I even imagine it would work on my iPhone as well. 
Here are Netflix instructions. Forget it on a Mac.
     Not so on the iMac. Before you can watch it you are given a prompt that tells you you must download Microsoft's Silverlight. Leave it to Microsoft and Netflix to use a different standard than the rest of the world. So, I clicked the link and downloaded it. 
     Nothing happened. I clicked it again. Again nothing. Then I clicked a link that said here are more detailed instructions. And they are too. Before using on a Mac you have to click and click and click. And for all the effort all you get is a link to something else that doesn't work. I trashed, restarted and tried again. There is another link at the bottom of their instructions that asked if it worked. Of course it doesn't. That is why I am complaining here.     
     I realize Netflix and Microsoft are not alone in this domain. There are plenty of products out there that simply don't work ... well. It just seems that after 30 + years with companies like Apple Computer or Xerox trying to simplify computer, phone or tablet use, using the focus groups of ethnography that came out of the studies of anthropology, companies have not seemed to learn anything about making things easier to use. Remember the VCR and its flashing 12:00? It was such a pain that one wag, on TV of all places, showed the audience how to solve that dilemma ... put a black piece of electoral tape over the 12:00 and it would never bother you again!
Go ahead, try to peel!
This morning, as I was completing the last major renovation to my new condo, I got hungry. I had walked the dog, was tired of anymore coffee and too lazy to fix anything so decided to eat a couple of cheddar cheese sticks. Well, try is the operative word here. Individually wrapped in plastic, they have a "pull apart" at the top. Only, you can never pull the two halves apart. Ever. I grabbed the scissors and carefully cut along the plastic as close to the cheese as I could. Finally I got the plastic pulled apart on the sides. I wondered, did the CEO ever use the products he makes? Ever? I think not.
If you had a Yahoo email account, you didn't know for years
that it had been hacked. So much for the concept of privacy.
     Adams once noted that to find the CEO of a company start asking employees how much RAM, memory, they have in their computer. When you find the one that doesn't know, you've found the boss. I know from experience that is true. I had a client who, more than a decade younger than me, that not only didn't know how, but refused to learn to use a computer.
     Other examples abound. It isn't enough that things don't work well, they are also hard to use and are notoriously insecure. The bad girl of the Internet of course is Marissa Mayer. Yahoo, for me at least, was difficult to use and I gave up using a Yahoo email account years ago. Good thing too! It turns out her company had breaches of their email servers that they took, I believe, over three years to reveal to their customers. It is a breach so heinous, now considered to be over 1 billion users, it has caused our government to start investigating and may very well bring charges and fines for these lapses. Not only did the hackers get your account name and password, they got any other information that you might have used including purchases, credit card numbers, addresses, even Social Security numbers.
     We have become so dependent on computer systems that not only is a failure at your local whatever, it is a failure systemwide, like the various airlines snafus, TSA being unable to check anybody entering or leaving the United States, charges at banks, retail stores and a variety of infamous online breaches.
Few follow Coco Chanels famous
dictum: "Less Is More"
      Is it any wonder that people worldwide feel stressed? Rather than actually designing products that work simply (easily?) they have instead become more and more complicated. Look at Ford. It took them years to finally replace one of the worst info/entertainment systems in the industry that was sold in every car. It neither connected nor worked and made it nearly impossible to use something as simple as your car radio. Did that CEO ever drive one? Consumers of all ages, dealers and even CONSUMER REPORTS downgraded their cars for this very feature.     
    The examples and lapses of making our lives easier to use, not more difficult, are many. Whether it is the packaging for the food we eat, the cell phones that we use, computer or digital software we use, even the TV and cable remotes, as we age, and you can definitely trust me on this, the harder each of these new things is to use. Is it so? I don't know. I do know that I am not embarrassed anymore to stop and ask someone younger, much younger than me, how to use something. Yet I wonder, especially as it takes about 4 remotes to use my DVD player, whether there is anyone out there listening.
     That is why I propose a "CEO Test," with proof listed on the label of every item we buy that certifies, just like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, that the maker of that product has actually used it and can vouch for the ease of simplicity of its use. I do know one thing, there certainly would be a lot fewer items for sale in the marketplace!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

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