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User friendly

It's a term that's thrown around a fair bit these days, to be sure. Everyone hails it as the ultimate goal of any sort of computer program. And they're right; they just don't know it.

The Man

After all, a user friendly tool IS a good thing. You don't want to have to fight with your tools. The whole purpose of a tool is to make things easier. Of course, most tools do that, so they all qualify. But some tools make it easier than others, and those are the tools we consider 'better'. That improvement can best be quantified as 'user friendliness'.

You can pound in a nail with a hammer head. If you add a handle onto it, it's a better tool for many reasons. It's better for you (and more 'user friendly') because it's easier to grip and keep a grip on. It's better for the job ('more efficient') because the lever action of the handle multiplies the force. Keep that distinction in mind; both increased user friendliness and increased efficiency make a tool better, but they do it in different ways.

The Myth

User friendly would, actually, be a great goal to strive toward. Except for one little problem.

Nobody really means it.

It's one of those little lies that everybody's happier to ignore, because to bring it up means you have to get into a long discussion that'll only end in tears. Well, I like tears.

The Legend

It all stems from a basic misuse of the term 'user friendly'. In this rant, I'm going to try and elaborate on that misunderstanding. It's such a deep misunderstanding that it's impossible to really address without backing up and re-examining our vocabulary, so as a side matter, I'm going to try and develop a new vocabulary for this realm, so we can all talk and mean what we think we mean. And I'm going to try and propose some ways to move forward, and really achieve the goals we say we want.

Let the gaaaaaaames.... begin!

So, without further ado, let's move onward What User friendly Really Means.

  1. User Friendly? What's that?
  2. What User Friendly Really Means
  3. Learnability
  4. Usability
  5. Application