Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Calculator: A Sign of American Intellect in Decline

Now one may wonder why I have spent more than a few seconds on this issue. The reason is that it is a metaphor for what is wrong with a few things. Here is the issue. Back in 1978 I believe I got the calculator on the left, a TI which may have been close to $100 at the time, a steep sum in today's world. Well designed, keys were colored to correspond to actions. Good human factors engineering. Bad packaging since it has not lasted this almost 30 years, neither did my first PC.

In the middle is a second unit about 10 years ago. Still good design, holds up, and the human factors is weakening, the blue keys should be of a more contrasting color.

Now today, I got the one on the right. The keys are all silver on silver and one cannot see them when using it in say a lab. Bad human factors design,

Now what makes the Apple products great are great human factors. I remember meeting Jobs back in the early 80's when I was at Warner, we had Atari and he had Apple, we had games and he had a dream. I always thought his idea was better and time tells out.

Now I bought one of these on the right and found it almost impossible to use. Bad human factors. So when I saw a comment on Amazon stating as such I just left my comment, using my real name which I believe is ethical and necessary to judge the remark, and then ZigZagJoe, whoever that may be, remarks:

"Fine tip black sharpie - problem solved."

 Now that is when I asked what would Steve Jobs say to that remark? I suspect the good ZigZag would be leaving the parking lot for good before I finished this sentence!

But, and this is the observation, who is ZigZag and why should I listen to him. He has no real name, no bona fides, he lacks any engineering sense, just a snarky sense of humor, if that is what I sense. But more importantly the design flow is more critical, from a 1970s great design to something which is unusable. Perhaps that is one of the problems with American industry, people like ZigZag who may very well have been the designer!

The issue truly is as follows:

1. Form follows Function: This is a calculator, and using plus, minus, multiply and divide, are key functions, hidden by the form. This is by definition a design failure.

 2. Yet the ZigZag character suggests a fix, use a marker, color in the key so that one can see them better, redesign the calculator. Only ZigZag misses the point, it is not the users role to design but to use. ZigZag is reflective of all that is wrong, he may suggest a suboptimal solution, if even that, but it is not the user but the designer who has the obligation. And TI clearly showed that decades ago, almost 40 years ago!

3. ZigZag has become a universal model for how not to act, his snarky attitude, his failure to understand the issue, his lack of appreciation of quality is an embodiment of what is wrong. Would a Japanese designer do this, doubtful.

4. The customer is key. One should never ask the customer to assemble the product, any moron should know that. I recall having this discussion in NYNEX (now Verizon) back in the 1980s when they were just getting out of being a monopoly. The customer, given a choice, will go with the provider who respects them, who anticipates their needs. ZigZag was and is clueless on this issue. He just seems to say that the customer should improvise and fix the fault, as if he has some divine insight.

5. ZigZag is thus a representation for what I see more and more of in the US. Young arrogant people who have a modicum of knowledge and will push their arrogance on the customer. This is NOT Jobs, it is however much of what we see from the young developers. It is truly intellect in decline, it is the taking of the easy way out, namely they thought of this so it must be correct and you should use their simple idea or you are stupid. This is a product of our state run education systems.

6. The problem then is with TI and ZigZagJoe, each in their own way. TI, for no longer designing properly, it is truly a design flaw, and for that as an American company, a diminution of intellect. As for ZigZagJoe, he is unknown, and other than what appears to be youthful ignorance and arrogance, often telltale signs of American youth, he could frankly just be generationally representative.

It is a shame we do not have an overabundance of the perfectionists like Jobs, but we have all too many of the snarks like ZigZag!