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Author Topic: Usability is everything...  (Read 911 times)
F.C.A.R
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« on: October 27, 2011, 09:39:47 AM »
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Hi.

In the just published article by Mark Dubovoy about Imageprint 9 he states in regards to the usability of the product that: "The company's response was that it is quite expensive to develop such a GUI and they prefer to spend their money and use their resources to enhance the product and the profiles database rather than make the interface prettier.  ... for the type of product we are talking about it is really not necessary."

I must begin by saying that I have nothing but respect for Mr. Dubovoy, I do not know him, nor he me. I also want to say that this is my first post here, after having been a lurker for quite some time, and that I enjoy these forums and find the tone in the discussions polite and respectful (at least mostly) which is contrary to many other discussion forums on the net. But I do like a good discussion, so please feel free to discuss away even if you mostly agree.

To the point. The above quote is absolutely wrong in every way from the perspective of a prospective user. I have never used Imageprint but, as a proffessional Interaction designer (usability specialist) I can from the screenshots alone see several usability problems with Imageprint. To name two: the dashboard screenshot shows a button "Add to facvorites" next to the "Apply" button, both buttons have the same importance and weight in the interface, but not in their function. In figure 3, there is a window overlaying the actual picture - how did it get there? Most probably by the user issuing a command to put it there, something which most probably will take the novice user 15 minutes in a FAQ to figure out.

These two examples of usability issues are from reading the article and glancing at the screenschots, which makes me assume that numerous more usability problems would be found if the program would be subjected to actual usability procedures.

I know the counter argument. If you want to use the system you need to learn how it works and behaves. There is a very ugly word out there called "user friendliness". There is no such thing as all computer systems and gadgets needs to be learned, and often it is not desirable as efficiency trumphs something being "intuitive" (another ugly word in the want to be usable business). But to purposefully not making something easier to use, or easier to learn, is outright insolent towards the user. Believing that I will happily spend several hundred Euros on a product that I then have to spend several (hundred of) hours to learn how to use is just not going to happen. I am not a professional printer, nor photographer, but I still enjoy a good print. I will therefore make due with other solutions for printing, probably to my, but mostly their, loss. Not because I do not have the money to buy the software, but because I do not want to spend an insane amount of time (more or less any) learning the basics of the software. I am not sixteen anymore.

If the article by Mr. Dubovoy would be the only example of such thinking, then I would not react, nor post this. But this is just one example of a thinking that permeates the entire computer industry, and digital photographic community. For example, it seems to be universally agreed that the Fuji X100 has an excellent sensor. It also seems to be universally agreed that as a tool, the camera sucks. But reviewers/buyers still raise the camera to the sky, because the pictures are so great. See for instance Mr. Reichmanns follow up report (Mr. Reichmann, if you are reading this, thank you for this site), where he acknowledges some problems then continues to say that these are minor flaws which might be fixed in future software updates and should not dissuade a buyer (he is a bit harsher than this, but you get my point). To me, a camera that is not usable is not of any use (and therefore should not be bought) regardless of the low noise characteristics or the sharpness of it's output. There are so many great sensors out there that I personally do not need to buy one with inferior hardware around it. But I do not want such things excused or glossed over in reviews, because that is the most important thing about the camera. In essence, the camera you have with you is the best camera. The camera that works when you have it with you is the only camera worth having.

To be fair, I have not personally used the Fuji X100, so I do not have any idea if it's handling is good or bad. I am just trying to make a more general point. Becayse this is a problem that exist all over the place. The other day I opened The most popular image editing program and tried to add a curve-layer. But it was in one of it's modes (if it would have been a person, I would have said moods), and it would not let me add the layer. Oh, well, I thought, the picture was not good enough to work on anyway, and I quit the program. I will not reopen it for a long time, and I will solve any other image-enhancing problems I have some other way, even if they are inferior.

When I use a program I need to learn how it works. That is the way it is. What I do not want to do is to have to relearn how it works every time I use it after a time of absence. And that is what poor usability leads to, having to relearn again and again (not even mentioning the risk for errors). Any purchase of any product is an investement in money, but above all in time. I do not want to waste mine, and would therefore wish that manufacturers (of software and devices) did not waste it either. The examples above are just that, examples, not an attempt to single out any producers or persons. There are so many examples in the world that I could go on for a very long time (hello major social networking site and delete button next to show-taken-picture button on cameras from major camera manufacturer). The situation is as it is because development is driven by the engineers (I realise the amount of flak I might get for this, bring it on). It is more important to get the algorithm perfect than to make the product usable. I say, give us both.

My point? Bring handling, ergonomics and usability issues into the reviews, which they are, but make them carry as much weight as the actual sensor (or algorithms). Sensors are just another film, handling is everything. Oh, yes, context is the rest.

Cheers
   Fredrik
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michael
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« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2011, 10:44:00 AM »
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If usability was raised to equal importance to image quality I doubt that a single camera currently on the market would rate a "Pass".

I probably harp on usability issues more than most reviewers, but in the end we have to shoot with something, and so we choose a device that has the best available compromise between the various factors - size, weight, usability, IQ, etc.

Michael
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F.C.A.R
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« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2011, 11:34:04 AM »
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I agree that you do take usability and handling into account in your reviews. That is one of the reasons I enjoy reading them.

I actually think that most cameras are not worse off than other things. A least bad usability in cameras is not dangerous, unlike other things such as car stereo systems or nuclear power plants.

But I still think that an excellent image recording device with inferior usability, and by this I for instance mean cameras that lock up, or the whole system is slow to respond among other things, makes it unusable and not worth buying. The same argument goes for software.

Having said this, I am very aware that many unusable systems are used very much, sometimes because they are the best (technically) at what they do, sometimes because there is no alternative. But sometimes things are used because you own them and find their quirks after you have bought them. Most of the time, these quirks could have been fixed during the design with the appropriate mindset.

  Fredrik
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