[Arcana] Being clear about this.

Jim Blandy jimb at red-bean.com
Sun Jul 29 13:30:05 CDT 2012


Now, this I can agree with *wholeheartedly*.

I think the problem really started in earnest when the iPhone appeared and
showed everyone else up. I imagine other phone makers crying, "Our phone
has all the same features [if you're a checklist-driven idiot], so why
don't people like it as much? And our phone doesn't drop calls! [Nokia, for
example, was much better at actually making calls.] Apple's so great at
hype! [True, and necessary, but not sufficient.]" But it forced people to
recognize that they really had a blind spot that consumers really cared
about. And it wasn't just phone manufacturers who began to wake up, but
people developing web sites and writing desktop software as well.

The expertise supply that has appeared in response to that demand is
generally underwhelming, in my experience. I think a good designer has to
have all three of these:

- a developed visual sense, like an experienced graphic artist (and not all
graphic artists seem oriented towards pleasing people)

- a developed sense of semantic models and schemas, like a software
architect (and you know many programmers aren't good architects; perhaps
most aren't)

- a developed sense of, I guess, humans' cognitive abilities, like a
cognitive scientist(???). This is what Jef Raskin went off to study when he
realized he didn't know how to answer the questions that kept coming up.

But mostly, the designers I meet are people who've got the first, see that
we hackers suck in this area (absolutely correctly), but who don't even
have the wherewithall to *recognize* their limitations in the latter two.

We do have people at Mozilla who've got all three. But we also have the
more ordinary type.

And I agree that the expertise which is out there is usually directed at
designing low-investment interfaces. It's very consumer-oriented. And Emacs
isn't, and that's good, nay, *precious*.

But I also see a lot of clever solutions in the consumer stuff that I miss
in Emacs. We have no app store; the Emacs wiki is almost like that, but the
install experience is horrible. Our display model is pathetic. And there
are places where Emacs itself doesn't do incremental-search things that it
should: why isn't ibuffer (I think that's what it's called?) the default?
Firefox's Awesomebar does it, as does Sublime's buffer-switching stuff.

An aside: there's extraordinary resistance to even the most minor changes.
One time we reordered two items on a context menu (it made sense; it was
more consistent with other software) and our support organization (our
feedback organ) was flooded with complaints for weeks. Partly that's just
an effect of having 200 million users, but still, you can see that it takes
guts and faith on the part of management to follow along.
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