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August 30, 2007 10:28 AM   Subscribe

David Pogue on the Power of Simplicity Complete with musical opening.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (51 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think I have a crush on David Pogue.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:34 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think I'd like to crush David Pogue.
posted by mazola at 10:43 AM on August 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


Ah, Pogue. His song-and-dance routines and goofy sketches are much cooler in theory than they actually are when you watch them. Though I'm right with him in wanting to date Tivo. (in the archives, first row, as of this writing)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:57 AM on August 30, 2007


That guy irritates me.

I think the reason people want things to be simple is so that they can throw them away, they don't want to learn how to do something and they don't care.

When computers first came out, it took a while to learn how to do anything with them, but when you did learn they were great. Now everyone wants everything to be so simple a monkey could do it.

But would you expect a musical instrument to be easy to use? It takes practice, but once you learn it you can create beautiful music easily.

But no, people want simple things so they can throw them away in a year and get something else without learning anything.
posted by delmoi at 11:14 AM on August 30, 2007


MAKE HIM SHUT UP
posted by interrobang at 11:27 AM on August 30, 2007


I AGREE WITH INTERROBANG. WHY AM I YELLING.
posted by Mach5 at 11:31 AM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Some of his complaints are bizarre. he complains about having to scroll to the "U"s to select "United States" in drop downs, even though most websites do put the U.S. First, and even if you didn't, you just have to press "U" on your keyboard. He complains about complex printer dialogs, but most programs have a "print" button that prints without a dialog.

He complains about how long it takes to open a new Microsoft Word document by going up to the menu, then getting a task bar. But if you want a new blank document, all you have to do is press Ctrl+N on the keyboard, just like in a web browser. That's just one "tap"

He's essentially complaining about not being able to do things he doesn't know how to do. Well fucking duh.
posted by delmoi at 11:34 AM on August 30, 2007


INTERROBANG IS TRUTH
posted by boo_radley at 11:38 AM on August 30, 2007


A little too much anti-Microsoft, but a few very clear examples of why design simplicity is important.

delmoi: sure, playing an instrument takes practice, but the instruments themselves are models of simple design. Take, for example, the piano: three foot pedal, 88 keys. Press any of them in combination. Simple. The result after years of hard practice, however, can be beautiful and sophisticated.

I also think Pogue is right on about feature creep. I own a lot of software. I'm sick of upgrading. I don't want more features. I want the features I signed on for to work properly. Oh, but that would cut software companies' revenue streams.

There's a reason Pogue is giving the lectures, writing for the NYTimes, getting paid fat cash and you are not (interrobang, Mach, and delmoi). Maybe you can figure it out.
posted by mistersquid at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2007


Yes, but delmoi, he's getting paid to make those complaints. And paid well, I'll wager. That means that his complaints have a higher cash value than ours.
posted by lodurr at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2007


There's a reason Pogue is giving the lectures, writing for the NYTimes, getting paid fat cash and you are not

Yes, there is. At least one. Probably several. And most of them have to do with who he knew before he got the job.

That is how you get that kind of job. You do not get it by being the most knowledgeable person in that field. Being a good writer counts for much, much more, but even that's bupkus next to who you know. Who you know is simply how you get the opportunity to play. (For the most part) Only then does your skill come into the picture.

That's a fact of life, and I'm actually not complaining about it. I'm just saying that the fact that Pogue gets all those gigs follows from his NYT gig, and that there's no real necessary correlation between writing for the NYT and being all that much on the ball. Cases in point.
posted by lodurr at 11:46 AM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


"When computers first came out, it took a while to learn how to do anything with them, but when you did learn they were great. Now everyone wants everything to be so simple a monkey could do it. "

No, we want the difficulty to be related to the complexity of the task. Too many devices/programs screw up the simple things and create unnecessary work.
posted by malevolent at 11:49 AM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


When I saw that this began with a musical routine, I had hoped that it was a TED presentation by The Pogues, but they broke up. So instead it was just some whiny guy talking about computers. He reminded me of a young version of Andy Rooney. Except about computers.
posted by Slap Factory at 11:57 AM on August 30, 2007


There's a reason Pogue is giving the lectures, writing for the NYTimes, getting paid fat cash and you are not (interrobang, Mach, and delmoi). Maybe you can figure it out.

The "you're just jealous" argument? Seriously?
posted by interrobang at 11:58 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Take, for example, the piano: three foot pedal, 88 keys. Press any of them in combination. Simple.

Well the piano, or really the 'keyboard' is actually sort of the exception. Take a guitar. You hold different frets to make chords, but which frets to press are not really apparent unless you can work out music theory math in your head. Once you learn the patterns you can go. With wind instruments it's not always apparent what you have to press to get a certain note. It takes practice. And even with a piano you have to learn what patterns of keys make different chords. But a piano is much easier then most instruments.
posted by delmoi at 12:05 PM on August 30, 2007


The "you're just jealous" argument? Seriously?

Heh.

In my defense, I do believe you're jealous on top of whatever gripes you may have which, by the way, I've not yet seen.

Half of my point is that Pogue is good at what he does. He's a somewhat nervous (and a little whiny) public speaker, but he is able to communicate his points clearly and with examples.

The other half of my point is that your objection isn't very persuasive, something along the lines of "MAKE HIM SHUT UP".

So, yeah, there are reasons Pogue is well-liked and well-compensated.

I concur with lodurr's point that "it's who you know" but perhaps not the same degree. That is, Pogue is well-connected and that helps him get gigs in Monterey, CA, to talk at TED. Sure, but he also has talent and insight. Without those last two things he'd be another Bob Enderle or Paul Thurrott, writers who get attention by penning absurdities.
posted by mistersquid at 12:16 PM on August 30, 2007


Sorry, delmoi, but I really don't see the point of making (or keeping) interfaces difficult. If it's an unavoidable part of delivering certain features, then sure i.e. old-timey musical instruments. But for the sake of itself? Even when you're a guru of ToolX, being able to do precisely what you want in fewer steps is a good thing, and I really don't understand how it could be otherwise. And as a newbie of ToolX, I want to learn it as smoothly as possible, so I can devote other brain cells to learning to use ToolY. Obviously, you wouldn't take this argument to it's bitwise conclusion, so I'm wondering what you think of as an acceptable degree of complexity.
posted by Edgewise at 12:17 PM on August 30, 2007


A little too much anti-Microsoft, but a few very clear examples of why design simplicity is important.

I agree, he's a little heavy on the Microsoft hate, but having said that Microsoft is an egregious offender in this area. I mean they can't even manage intuitive design on their software packaging.

P.S. I learned a new word from the article on packaging: "affordances". Who knew there was a name for that?
posted by The Bellman at 12:17 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's a reason Pogue is giving the lectures, writing for the NYTimes, getting paid fat cash and you are not (interrobang, Mach, and delmoi). Maybe you can figure it out.
posted by mistersquid at 2:41 PM on August 30


Is it because Pogue has been shilling for Apple for decades, and has in that time amassed so many friends inside the company that he can score insider access for the Times that other writers can't? Or is it because most readers of the Times are technological neophytes who understand the hack stand-up joke about the VCR clock blinking 12:00.

Most people hate simplicity or automation in things they like. The sports car enthusiast wants stick shift, not automatic transmission. The artist wants colors that mix well, rather than having to buy 1000 tubes of paint. The hardcore computer hacker wants a command line, not brushed aluminum UI. The designer wants photoshop, not Microsoft paint.

Oh, and Apple had to pay Creative Labs $100 million for ripping off their user interface and menu structure.

And let's all drop the charade that the iPod design is intuitive and easy. It isn't. It is counter-intuitive to browse a vertical list with a circular device. The purpose of the wheel is to force you to take the iPod out of your pocket and look at it to do anything, thereby reinforcing the consumer relationship with the product.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:22 PM on August 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


Oh dear, PastaBagel, you seem to have gone off the deep end over there.

Pogue has always been an Apple advocate. I suppose you're saying his friends at Apple have some sort of fast track into mass media tech reporting.

Regarding this gem of your The hardcore computer hacker wants a command line, not brushed aluminum UI., I think that goes to the heart of your dichotomous and, so, limited thinking.

Word on the street has it that there is an easy to use brushed aluminum UI with a hardcore UNIX command line and that many "harcore hackers" use such machines on a daily basis.

The only thing aluminum about you, PastaBagel, seems to be that foil hat you're wearing.
posted by mistersquid at 12:29 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


P.S. I learned a new word from the article on packaging: "affordances". Who knew there was a name for that?

I'd like to say "every UI designer drawing a paycheck", but I suspect I'd be wrong.

It is counter-intuitive to browse a vertical list with a circular device.

It's also the only way to fit an effectively infinite scrollbar on a limited size physical device, which is what makes it one of those rare solutions that seem obvious only in retrospect.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:30 PM on August 30, 2007


The purpose of the wheel is to force you to take the iPod out of your pocket and look at it to do anything, thereby reinforcing the consumer relationship with the product.

I don't get this claim. I regularly spin the dial to change the volume and click back and forward (as well as hold to ff/rw) and pause, all without taking the iPod out of my pocket.

I can't navigate menus without seeing them, true, but I don't know what non-wheel interface you think would solve that issue. I also think the claim that Apple would have risked introducing an unsuccessful product by basing the design on a marketing principle over utility is a little hard to believe.

The reality is that this is a bit of UI weirdness that isn't even that weird for people my age and older, all of whom grew up spinning a circular dial to move a line left and right on our radio tuners. In exchange for this oddness we get the ability to use an acceleration factor that seems FAR more intuitive than click&hold. Spin the dial slow and you fine-tune. Spin fast and it moves quick.

They've shown with the iPhone that you can get people comfortable doing that same momentum thing by sliding their finger on a surface but I think the bar there is actually higher.
posted by phearlez at 12:36 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


How would you feel if just as you'd mastered the clarinet's fingerings, you found out that not only don't they make clarinets anymore, but the one you do have won't play in your new house?
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:37 PM on August 30, 2007


"affordances". Who knew there was a name for that?

I can't put my hands on it right now, but I read a lively little essay a few months back ranting about the improper use of the term "afford" in UI circles. The beef was that it was used as though it was something that the designer created - the author was arguing that affordances exist independent of the designer's actions, and the designer's job is to deal with them -- emphasize them, de-emphasize them, make sure they're relevant, etc.
posted by lodurr at 12:38 PM on August 30, 2007


Pogue has always been an Apple advocate. I suppose you're saying his friends at Apple have some sort of fast track into mass media tech reporting.

Doesn't this reinforce my point? He isn't objective. Are we going to get a decent review of a Microsoft product for Pogue ever? And his friends at apple certainly have the fast track into apple tech reporting.


Word on the street has it that there is an easy to use brushed aluminum UI with a hardcore UNIX command line and that many "harcore hackers" use such machines on a daily basis.


Really? Are you talking about the Lisa? Is that out already?!

I'm aware that Macs run on Unix. I'm also aware that most mac users are NOT aware of this and of those that are, only a fraction use it with any regularity. The product is sold on the basis of it's physical appearance and UI, not the Unix underneath.

And there isn't anything wrong with this. But there is quite a bit wrong with holding David Pogue out to be an expert on anything.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:40 PM on August 30, 2007


The only thing aluminum about you, PastaBagel, seems to be that foil hat you're wearing.

Oh, geez. Another Mac fanboi over-reaction thread.

pastabagel, I advise you to leave this thread now, for the sake of your peace of mind.

(PB: I halfway agree with phearlez about the wheel, but I do very much see your point, btw. Apple products are all about consumer attachment, and UI failures are at least as important as successes in that regard. To paraphrase Kevin Kelly, "failure is also a form of attachment.")
posted by lodurr at 12:43 PM on August 30, 2007


The most important thing I've learned from this thread is that David Pogue has had a MetaFilter sockpuppet account since March 3, 2005.
posted by wendell at 12:51 PM on August 30, 2007


Let me clarify something - the wheel is counterintuitive because the motion of your finger is circular. A clickwheel on the side of a blackberry is a wheel and it rotates circularly, but your finger does not. Also, like the aforementioned radio dial, it includes a tactile response.

introducing an unsuccessful product by basing the design on a marketing principle over utility is a little hard to believe

That isn't a marketing principle in the sense of a gimmick. It's a product interaction principle, and most products are designed with that in mind.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:53 PM on August 30, 2007


It is counter-intuitive to browse a vertical list with a circular device.

Uh, what? Tell that to my mousewheel. Actually, it beats using a vertical scrolling device, like a slider. Why? Because if you had a really long list, then moving the slider a tiny amount will scroll through too much of the list, since it only has a finite range. Or, you could have buttons that scroll one line per push...but that could get old really fast. If you think about it, the clickwheel is a very elegant solution to both these problems.

The purpose of the wheel is to force you to take the iPod out of your pocket and look at it to do anything, thereby reinforcing the consumer relationship with the product.

WTF are you talking about? Explain to me how you can browse a music playback list without looking at it? The only way I could think of is if the device actually reads titles to you over the earphone, and nobody's doing that. Please tell me the name of the portable music player that's more intuitive than the ipod.

Please note that I am not an apple or ipod fanatic by any stretch. But these criticisms make no sense at all. Part of me suspects you are joking.
posted by Edgewise at 12:55 PM on August 30, 2007


The only thing aluminum about you, PastaBagel, seems to be that foil hat you're wearing.

Oh, geez. Another Mac fanboi over-reaction thread.

pastabagel, I advise you to leave this thread now, for the sake of your peace of mind.


My mind is fully protected underneath my depleted uranium foil hat. It even has a thorium lining whose radioactive decay keeps my mind toasty warm in wintertime.

Oh thorium, is there anything you can't heat up?
posted by Pastabagel at 12:57 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


A clickwheel on the side of a blackberry is a wheel and it rotates circularly, but your finger does not.

And when scrolling through a long list, half of the time is spent moving your finger back up to the top of the wheel because you can only move it in tiny increments before you can't move it any further. It also makes it very difficult to make intelligent use of velocity and/or acceleration because scrolling through the list is broken up into lots of tiny movements. It's a perfectly fine input mechanism for a very small number of choices; for thousands of songs, it's terrible, but the "counterintuitive" iPod control works quite well.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:06 PM on August 30, 2007


All software sucks, including the bits I wrote myself over the last two decades.

That in itself isn't surprising, we've only been at it for little over half a century. Come back in a millennium or so, and we'll talk.

In the mean time, voicing software gripes is a required part of getting to improve things. Read the http://hates-software.com/ list if you're in the industry...
posted by DreamerFi at 1:10 PM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by mistersquid at 1:10 PM on August 30, 2007


Sorry, delmoi, but I really don't see the point of making (or keeping) interfaces difficult.

Don't you understand, Edgewise? It builds character. Who wants a user-friendly interface that even my dead grandmother could use when you could spend hours and days learning the ins and outs of a quirky, arcane interface, and then learn it all again when they change things on you in the next version?

You kids and your all wanting things easy! I remember when I was a lad, we had to use switches and lightbulbs to interface with a computer, and had to enter everything in optcodes! And we liked it!
posted by moonbiter at 1:13 PM on August 30, 2007


... half of the time is spent moving your finger back up to the top of the wheel because you can only move it in tiny increments before you can't move it any further.

Units of time are easy to measure, but they don't necessarily correspond to actual improvements/degredations in usability.

Actual usability is a cognitive property. Difficult, if not impossible, to measure quantitatively. You need to know how much cognitive effort was required to use the device, not how quickly you could acquire the targets or complete the action. Of course, if you're looking for attachment, expending more cognitive effort could be a good thing.

Also, time to complete tasks is a much more valuable metric than time to complete actions (e.g., aquiring a target).

Also, I'm really dubious about the benefits of acceleration. It stikes me as the king of thing that's very useful to people who have a good native grasp of hand-eye coordination (e.g., anybody who's good on a skateboard), and bad for other people, like me. I disable mouse pointer acceleration whenever I can, because it diminishes my ability to quickly and accurately acquire targets, which in turn inhibited my ability to complete tasks. I wonder if there's research on acceleration...
posted by lodurr at 1:21 PM on August 30, 2007


Don't you understand, Edgewise? It builds character.

I will pay for actually daring to say this on metafilter, but: there is an argument to be made for actually having to work for things, instead of always having them made "easy."
posted by lodurr at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2007


Yes, but to use a piece of software? That's going a bit far.

I mean, after all, most software does not exist for its own sake, there to be wondered at for its cleverness (or lack of it). Sure, that's what power users and Linux-types and software reviewers and developers often focus on, but the standard user that just wants to get something done. The less one has to learn to get a task done, the better.

I think the musical instrument analogies are a bit of a red herring here. Learning the intricacies of MS Word is hardly the same level of self-development as learning to play Chopin.
posted by moonbiter at 1:36 PM on August 30, 2007


Actual usability is a cognitive property. Difficult, if not impossible, to measure quantitatively.

In this case, it's really not that difficult. You don't even need to be one the many many high-priced usability experts that Apple employs.

How many discreet click-steps do you think there could be in one (partial) turn of a Blackberry thumbwheel as your thumb travels from top to bottom? 10 maybe? Certainly not an order of magnitude more than that. Now imagine you have 5000 songs in a list.

You need to know how much cognitive effort was required to use the device, not how quickly you could acquire the targets or complete the action.

If you need to spin your Blackberry thumbwheel a few hundred times, then "how quickly you could acquire the targets or complete the action" will presumably come into play.

Also, time to complete tasks is a much more valuable metric than time to complete actions (e.g., aquiring a target).

See above.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:36 PM on August 30, 2007


Argh, discreet discrete.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:38 PM on August 30, 2007


How many discreet click-steps do you think there could be...

I think that qualifies as being pedantic.

I realize my arguments about cognitive effort are likely to fall on deaf ears, here, so I'll leave them. Suffice for now to say that I don't really see anything in your response that makes me think you've understood what I was saying.
posted by lodurr at 1:41 PM on August 30, 2007


there is an argument to be made for actually having to work for things, instead of always having them made "easy."

Sure, but a person shouldn't have to build a power generator and run cable just to turn on a light switch.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:54 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ah, the just and firm father school of technology (work your way to the top son!) and the nurturing mother metaphor (let me hold you while you learn).

I like David Pogue. I have a man crush on him. I want him to like me. I don't care if he does like showtunes and reads Heat magazine. He challenged all of my assumptions and I liked it!
posted by craniac at 2:03 PM on August 30, 2007


Units of time are easy to measure, but they don't necessarily correspond to actual improvements/degredations in usability

This is sometimes not true. There have been experiments of the sort that you have to turn these 4 knobs to get the needle to point straight up, and the relationship of the knobs to the needle movement is an unknown relationship, but you can kind of get the feel of it and perform the task.

Exceeding very specific delays in response time, like over .6 seconds in the experiment I read, make it impossible to do.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:05 PM on August 30, 2007


I realize my arguments about cognitive effort are likely to fall on deaf ears, here, so I'll leave them. Suffice for now to say that I don't really see anything in your response that makes me think you've understood what I was saying.

Suffice it to say that your arguments would be less likely to fall on deaf ears if you didn't make them so very badly.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:12 PM on August 30, 2007


there is an argument to be made for actually having to work for things, instead of always having them made "easy."

OK, I'd like to hear it. I mean, in a very general case, that's an easy argument to make. But when we're talking about fighting the interface, I just don't get it.
posted by Edgewise at 2:14 PM on August 30, 2007


... if you didn't make them so very badly.

Ah, cute. Cute, cute, cute. Did you realize your cheeks dimple when you fight dirty?
posted by lodurr at 2:18 PM on August 30, 2007


How many discreet click-steps do you think there could be in one (partial) turn of a Blackberry thumbwheel as your thumb travels from top to bottom? 10 maybe? Certainly not an order of magnitude more than that. Now imagine you have 5000 songs in a list.

This is exactly right, which is why even BlackBerry has given up on the much-vaunted BlackBerry thumbwheel. How do you feel about using a roller-ball for your vertical list? How about for blasting centipedes or protecting against incoming missiles. [/oldtimer]
posted by The Bellman at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


My biggest problem with this argument is that I don't think Mac's are any easier for a lot of uses. It's just what you're used to. Pogue's facile example about the start button is idiotic to make when my favorite example of cognitive disconnect on the Mac is throwing cd's into the trash to eject them. I just want it back, I don't want to throw it away.

In any case, my argument is that the Mac is as guilty if not more, of the Wizard crime. They're just invisible wizards.

*Aside: INVISIBLE WIZARDS! RUN!*

Exhibit A being Itunes. Itunes is fine if you want to make playlists on your ipod and that's all you want to do. I have a non-ipod mp3 player. One that plays oggs because I converted a bunch of them back when I thought formats would be judged by quality. Silly me. My mp3 player is a flash drive. I plug it in. I drag stuff onto it. I unplug it. Happy.

However, if I want a track that's not on emusic and I fire up itunes which I am bound to own since the damn thing installs everytime I upgrade quicktime, it wants to scan my hard drive and catalog my 'music'. Don't. Leave my damn hard drive alone. I know where my damn music files are.

And furthermore, get off my damn lawn!
posted by lumpenprole at 2:51 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


my favorite example of cognitive disconnect on the Mac is throwing cd's into the trash to eject them.

That has an interesting history. On the original 128k Macs, the only storage was floppies, so you ended up swapping floppies in and out a lot. When you chose the command to eject a floppy, it left a "ghost" image of the floppy on the desktop, so you could still refer to it (drag files from one floppy to another, for instance). To complete the operation, the Mac would ask you to insert the "ghosted" floppy when it was needed. To remove the ghost from the desktop altogether, you dragged it to the trash.

Users complained that the two-step process (eject + drag to trash) was cumbersome in the common case when you were just done with it, so they made dragging an active floppy to the trash both eject it and remove the ghost from the desktop.

That mechanism still exists today, even though the origins of it are long gone. They did at least make the icon dynamically change to an eject symbol when you start dragging a CD (or any other drive) so it's not quite as jarring for a neophyte user.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 3:18 PM on August 30, 2007


You know, there were a lot of really smart people at TED who had to rush through their talks because there wasn't time. Good thing Pogue got all that time to sing his brilliant song instead.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:40 AM on August 31, 2007


Ugh. Song Songs. So far, three.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:04 AM on August 31, 2007


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