Technology vs. user-centered design

I ran into two articles this morning that are not linked, but in fact tell the same story.

First article, from De Standaard (in Dutch): chip-maker Intel is opening a “Concept Store” in Brussels, a temporary shop where they will showcase not their newest technology, but how to use it. Shop-sellers have been expressly forbidden to use techie words like “gigabytes” or “megahertz”, let alone “dual-core technology”. Instead, they are supposed to ask customers … what they would like to do with their computer. Is that revolutionary, or what?

Second article, from the Butler Group Blog: how to develop a speech application that traps your callers into an endless loop. Funny to read, but not so funny for the caller, and even less for the (anonymous) company that dares to treat its callers this way.

Morale of the stories: users don’t care what technology you use, as long as they can get their things done, and their problems solved. So if you consider speech-enabling your current IVR system, make sure you know what you’re doing, or get some professional advice first.

One Response to “Technology vs. user-centered design”

  1. Emmanuel Lambert says:

    I completely agree that customers/users mostly don’t care what technology is used. But especially in speech user interfaces, it is both extremely important and very difficult to abstract technical issues from the user.

    Why ? Because speech user interfaces in a call center for example, are a very high-tech product that will for 90% (or more) be used by completely non-technical users from the very beginning! And there it is different from other new, emerging technologies, for example a PDA, digital camera, the Internet, where technically interested people were the first wave of users/early adopters and the products had time to mature over the years.

    That has been an issue that was frequently overseen in the past and therefore it is, in my opinion, one of the important reasons why speech user interface projects have failed so often : because the dialogue quality itself was not bulletproof enough for non-technical people. This diagnosis sounds simple, but a solution is a lot harder, as people with experience in the field will confirm.

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