The huge gap between end users and technical people

In the past 2 days have had two very interesting Kindle related interactions -

  1. My new doctor (who has an amazing sense of humor) mentioned that he loved his Kindle. He also mentioned that it was the only tech device that he thought was straightforward and that the iPad’s screen meant he wouldn’t consider/use it for reading.
  2. Had my parents (who are visiting) test out a couple of things on the Kindle and got to see them using a Kindle.

There were a few things that totally blew me away -

  1. My mom doesn’t really use the 5-way cursor or keyboard much. To the point that the only button she’s comfortable with is Next Page.
  2. Both my parents and my aunt struggled mightily with the keyboard. It’s just crazy that Amazon haven’t made the buttons and the text bigger.
  3. My doctor mentioned that he isn’t very sure of how to make notes and add highlights. And that he would love just being able to write down notes (with a pen).  

He talked about how the Kindle was different from all the other gadgets in that it was easy to use – and it struck a chord. The way my parents and my doctor feel about gadgets is exactly how I feel about all the new Internet ‘social’ stuff.

Texting, Facebook, Twitter, Social Media – It’s all a struggle for me.

At one level it seems crazy to have to learn all these new ways of interacting with the world. At another level they aren’t really necessary – which is good because don’t think my cognitive abilities extend to understanding the need for these or how to thrive in this ‘made-up social connections’ world. For me a plain old website that works and email and the phone are enough.

Why learn all this new fangled technology?

Developers and Designers need to make things very simple

There are seemingly trivial things that totally throw users off -

  1. Where the cursor is on the page.
  2. What button is highlighted by default.
  3. Whether instructions are confusing or really straightforward. 
  4. Assumptions made by developers that only other developers know about. Ex: Users will know how text boxes work.
  5. There being no indication of what to do on a page.

Basically, every extra button or feature is a level of complexity. Whenever a clear next step is missing it’s a potential derailing of the user’s experience.

The Kindle is accused of doing only one thing and not providing enough options. However, from what people who use the Kindle are mentioning it’s still not simple enough.

For anyone who is technical that’s almost incomprehensible – However, it makes perfect sense.

Shouldn’t the aim of technology be to behave the way users expect it to and make things easier for users?

Target’s Usability Lab’s motto is – If you can’t use it, it doesn’t work. That sums up the perfect design approach.

Even a device as straightforward as the Kindle isn’t simple enough.

Developers and Designers need to use paradigms users are familiar with

One of the biggest ways to make things simple is to use design conventions and paradigms users are comfortable with.

Using the qwerty keyboard, making links blue and underlined, making Back function as an actual Back button. It’s all about making things work the way they should – according to users.

When a user uses the Kindle or another device and it behaves the way she expects devices to behave or the way she expects a device with that function to behave then it’s satisfying. It adds to the user’s experience. When she struggles or gets confused then it detracts from the experience. A poorly designed eReader kills the reading experience – Not only does it change the user’s opinion of the device it also impacts the amount of satisfaction the user gets from reading.

At some point we have to start making devices that behave the way users expect them to and that users are comfortable with.

For the Kindle that means being like a book (matching the users’ view of how a book should behave and what it should be) while simultaneously meeting the common device design conventions (which users expect). The former getting precedence over the latter whenever there is a conflict.

Makes you wonder about all the Kindle advice and Kindle’s direction

We are in a very interesting situation -

  1. Tech savvy users and the tech press want more and more options on the Kindle – more functions, apps, more settings, more customization. 
  2. A significant portion of Kindle owners want something dead simple. They want no part of doing a dozen different things. They don’t even want an Internet Browser. 
  3. Tech savvy users and the tech press want to see a touchscreen and cutting edge technology.
  4. Users just want to scribble notes and use a Kindle Electronic Pen (or some other pen) with the Kindle.
  5. The Tech Press want lots of apps and lots of options and flexibility.
  6. Users just want to read.

There are a few main options being presented to Amazon – become a multi-purpose device, cut prices to $50, give away Kindle for free and make money from book sales, introduce cool new technology that may or may not be relevant to reading, copy the cool new devices.

How about going against all that advice -

  1. Instead of adding features cut down features. 
  2. Instead of going with new technology like touchscreens use technologies users would be familiar with like pens that can write on the Kindle.
  3. Instead of cutting prices raise value for money and if needed price too.
  4. Instead of adding 10,000 different apps add 50 to 100 apps that actually help Kindle owners.
  5. Instead of being a device that you can read on be a book that you can do reading related things on.

Amazon has managed to keep a laser focus on making the Kindle simple and to the point and that focus has made the Kindle a success. We don’t know if it’s time to rethink that strategy – Perhaps all the tech savvy Press and new device devotees are completely wrong.

Actual kindle owners want things to be even simpler and the Kindle to do an even better job at focusing on reading and making it all about reading. Listening to and observing actual Kindle users vaporizes all the delusions the Press and multi-purpose device makers are trying to brainwash us with.

5 Responses

  1. AMEN!!! I’m one of those that need the Kindle to be kept simple! I’m not a “techy”. This is one of the best reviews you have written. I just want to read and if I need to take notes etc, make it easy!

  2. Hooray for the “simple” devices. I LOVE my Kindle and if anyone tries to compicate it I will scream.
    If it “ain’t” broke, don’t fix it.

  3. Maybe the answer would be for Amazon to make the Kindle DX the complicated one with all the extra gadgets, and the Kindle the simple one that is geared towards the non-technical folks.

    I’d actually love to have one of each, though price prohibits me from owning more than my original Kindle at this point.

  4. I’m a software QA manager and I’m always chanting the Simple is Better mantra. Most developers just don’t seem to get it.

    As for me, a technical person, I don’t use any of the bells and whistles on my Kindle, all I do is read a book, then archive it when I’m done.

    Shopping through 3G is too slow and I’m online all day anyway. I mostly read fiction or non-fiction for fun so I have no need to make notes or highlight. I’ve never read with a dictionary close by so I don’t need that either. I have a 32GB MP3 player that’s organized in several different ways, the Kindle version sucks. About the only change I’m looking forward to is the folder option. All the other features do is distract from reading which is the real purpose of the device.

    I would also like to be able to lend or give away a book, and to filter what’s available to family members on my account.

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