If Ikea made cars
(Image credit: Erik Johansson)

I’ve been thinking about some ideas about how we can humanize technology. Here are seven design principles I’ve got so far. Unfortunately it seems that most software violates one or more of these principles.

  1. Fix the technology, not the person.

    How often have you heard that someone requires training before they can use a particular piece of technology. Good technology does not require training, it is simple enough to use without a special operator’s manual. Stop designing software and hardware for the power user; develop it for everyone.

  2. Make it simple.

    Extra features in products make them less usable not more usable. If you must have additional features, make them opt-in features, and have them be offered as options when users search for help on how to use your product. There is no reason to offer the entire range of possibilities in a buffet style menu. Offer the minimum functionality, and expand it as necessary, when prompted by the user.

  3. Look ahead.

    Your technology should solve problems not make them. Before you offer your product to other people, make sure that it solves a problem of some sort (even perhaps a problem that not everyone knew existed) and that it is not going to introduce any new problems through it’s use.

  4. Make failure obvious.

    When technology fails, it can be catastrophic. Unfortunately, error messages from technology are often missing, or cryptic at best. Disconnected in your phone call? Your phone should say "call disconnected." Website is broken? Give us a human readable reason why it won’t it load, and if your program doesn’t know why it won’t load, be honest! Avoid language in these descriptions that would be confusing to an 8 year old. Trouble-shooting to figure out what is wrong shouldn’t take forever. You designed the product, you should be able to figure out how it can go wrong, and how to let people know what to do when it does.

  5. The designer of a tool must use it.

    Ever use a piece of technology and wonder why it was so broken? The problem was that the person who designed the product never used it in their day to day life. The reason why Gmail is so good is that it is used by its developers.

  6. Listen to feedback.

    When someone suggests that your product has a problem, take the time to listen to them. Be open to the possibility that your product isn’t perfect and can be improved.

  7. Make it accessible.

    Everyone should be able to use their technology. If that is not possible, design an alternative for whom the modality of your product doesn’t work. Your innovative video platform for education isn’t very innovative for people who are blind, it’s useless.