Thursday, April 07, 2011

Weeping asterisks and flying snowflakes

I'm sometimes puzzled by "universal" street signs and button-icons. In my HCI class I have the students guess the meaning of the icon bar from my credit union's bill pay interface. No one gets close to the right answer.

An article in Slate about the incomprehensibility of European appliance interfaces...
Rather than words such as bake, broil, clean, European ovens almost always mark their controls with a library of comically obtuse Euroglyphics. Some of these symbols indicate whether the oven's heat comes from below or above and are relatively easy for a chump from the colonies to guess. Others are harder to fathom: the P with swirls around it, the P with somewhat larger swirls, the swirls inside a circle between two horizontal lines, the snowflake (odd for a device that we generally expect to heat its contents), and the weeping asterisk.
... reminded me of Don Norman's CACM column ("Simplicity is highly overrated") and response. He says:
Make it simple and people won’t buy. Given a choice, they will take the item that does more. Features win over simplicity, even when people realize that it is accompanied by more complexity. You do it too, I bet. Haven’t you ever compared two products side by side, comparing the features of each, preferring the one that did more? Why shame on you, you are behaving, well, behaving like a normal person.

The complex expensive toaster? I bet it sells well.
He goes on to cite the Joel on Software column about "Simplicity".

Don't miss the "American vs. European Domest Appliances" slide show.

A long time ago I couldn't figure out the meaning on an icon in an airplane bathroom. I asked one of the flight attendants and we figured out it was the flight attendance call button. But only to fetch flight attendances that looked like flattened ancient Egyptians.