Part V in an ongoing series of Why Products Suck (and what we can do about it).
Bill Buxton, author of Sketching User Experiences, has a saying that I’m paraphrasing: all technologies are good for something, and all of them are likewise bad for other things. Too often, the technology of a product is chosen before the design has happened, before the needs of users have been ascertained. This can lead to products with usability issues (at best) or that are useless (at worst).
Poor technology choices can stretch from the choice of overall medium (mechanical/analog vs. digital), to platform (web vs. mobile vs. desktop vs. kiosk vs. environment vs. robot vs. etc.), to the implementation of a single feature.
Take Fuelly for instance. Fuelly is a perfectly fine idea for a product: it helps track your car’s fuel economy. But a website as the major point of use seems wrong; few of us at online at that moment we’re filling up our cars. A mobile application, or better yet, an application built into the car or the GPS unit, would seem to be a better platform for the functionality.
No one is immune to this, not even Apple. I contend that the “classic” iPods made better use of technology (the clickable scrollwheel) than the iPod Touch. As much as I love a good touchscreen, I find touch controls for a music player frustrating. The ease of skipping songs and controlling volume (two actions that are done very frequently) has been lost with the move to touchscreens. The functional cartography needs work. (Of course, the iPod Touch is trying to be a lot more than a music player…but this too might be part of the problem.)
Start with the tasks that need to be performed, and the context in which they will be used. Then choose the technology that will best support the activities and the environment. (Of course, this means designers being able to exert considerable influence over the production and development of the product, which often doesn’t happen. Which is itself another reason Why Products Suck.)