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The Core Beliefs of Usability and Their CSS Application

From: Orion Adrian <orion.adrian@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 1 Jul 2005 13:57:59 -0400
Message-ID: <abd6c80105070110576c15f89f@mail.gmail.com>
To: www-style@w3.org

I've been bringing this up quite a bit lately, and there seems to be
some confusion so I'm going to quote one of the great web usability
gurus, Jakob Nielson.

In http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20050627.html :

At the same time, usability is also an ideology -- the belief in a
certain specialized type of human rights:

    * The right of people to be superior to technology. If there's a
conflict between technology and people, then technology must change.
    * The right of empowerment. Users should understand what's
happening and be capable of controlling the outcome.
    * The right to simplicity. Users should get their way with
computers without excessive hassle.
    * The right of people to have their time respected. Awkward user
interfaces waste valuable time.

I think Jakob Nielson speaks well here and these are the same basic
tennants I keep myself.

"Deep in another thread I made the comments that the user shouldn't be
forced to learn a language. That, in my mind, is the ideal. And as an
ideal I know it's probably not going to happen, but it's a goal on an
infinite range of values (specifically one end of the spectrum)."

Quoting Donald A. Norman in his book "Emotional Design":

"I pointed out that there are three different mental images of any
object. First is the image in the head of the designer - call that the
"designer's model." Then the image that the person using the device
has of it and the way it works: call this the "user's model." In an
ideal world, the designer's model and the user's model should be
identical and, as a result, the user understands and user the item
properly. Alas, designers don't talk to the final users; they only
specify the product."

I figured you'ld listen to them before me, an unknown. Yet another
example of trust.

Since the people using a product should always be many times again the
number of people designing the product it is must easier to get the
designers to change their mental model to fit that of the user than
the other way around. This falls under Nielson's 4th rule - the right
to have your time respected.

Programming and the ability to use a computer for many years has been
a means of separating those who know and those who don't. It has
become a societal strata much like owning expensive clothes or driving
a fast car.

Programming doesn't have to be hard for most programmers. There will
always be a level at which it is hard. This is the level that deals
directly with the physical world. This can't be manipulated or

CSS doesn't have to be hard to learn or use for the average user. A
lot of the people here have a mental model of layout that is very much
intertwined with the CSS box model.

But this isn't the model my observations have shown most people to
have. Even if there are technologies that can give the exact same
output, they may not match the user's mental model. Now we have the
opportunity to match it and to do not do so harms users.

I don't care about the idealogy you hold in your hearts, but I do care
if it causes harm to users. They are the end, the means do not matter.

Orion Adrian
Received on Friday, 1 July 2005 17:58:03 UTC

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