Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Rage Against the Machine

I've just finished reading a book called Emotional Design by Donald A. Norman, about the ways in which we interact emotionally with the tools and machines in our lives. This isn't something you tend to think about much, really, but the truth is that we do get emotionally engaged with our things, on all kinds of levels. A smooth and positive experience with a well-designed implement can lift your spirits, and the frustration of dealing with a poorly-designed one can ruin your whole day (as any computer-user can attest). It's definitely something that designers should think about, probably more than they do.

For instance, right now, I am very pissed off with my telephone. You would think that when it says "ringer off" in plain, simple English, that that would mean, gosh, the ringer is off. Which is apparently not the case, as evidenced by the fact that the damned thing woke me up twice today. I think the problem may be that there's a ringer on the base unit and one on the handset, and that you can only turn off the former. I'm not sure, though, because the manual is annoyingly vague. I'm going to try leaving the handset in another room, one from which experience has taught me a ringing phone isn't loud enough to wake me in my bed. We'll see if that works.

The thing is, the ability to not have my attention alerted to incoming calls is as important to me as the ability to be alerted to them. More so, in fact, as a good night's (er, day's) sleep is generally much more valuable to me than not missing a call, given that so few of my phone calls are actually important. I imagine it's not really natural for people who make phones to think this way, though. When you think of a phone -- or any other gadget -- you tend to think about in terms of having a function and performing it. But sometimes the most important thing you can build into a machine is an off switch.

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