Jakob Nielsen at the Movies
I am on the record as being a great admirer of Jakob Nielsen. However, there have been times where I have been critical of some of the things he has written. Whether I was being critical or doting, though, I openly wondered if he perhaps lacked the ability to express enjoyment of anything or if the language barrier was just a little too much for him to overcome. However, I had a lot of fun with his most recent article.
This week, Nielsen wrote about the "Top 10 Bloopers" of computer usability in the movies, where he describes how Hollywood mischaracterizes how humans really interact with computers in television and movies. As one on the forefront of usability testing, Nielsen would certainly know if mistakes are made.
When you know only a little about something, it's difficult to catch these mistakes. When you know a lot about something, the mistakes tend to stand out, and it's difficult to restrain yourself from groaning out loud. You can't help yourself, but you do your best to overlook the snafu as an element the artists believed necessary to tell the story.
Here are some interesting ones from Nielsen's list:
- Access Denied / Access Granted. Whenever someone tries to crack a security-enabled system, we are treated to one of these two messages, when in reality, we would normally just be granted access without the message.
- Big Fonts. Usually in conjunction with the point above, but always big enough for the audience to read.
- You've Got Mail is Always Good News. (Bruce Almighty notwithstanding) In reality, we get so many emails that answering them can be a chore, especially when we have to sort through all the spam to pick out the ones that may be of interest to us.
Movies are full of such errors and implausible plot details. Nielsen cites one of my favorites, "[Y]ou'd imagine...that the ability to shoot straight might actually be a primary job requirement of Imperial Stormtroopers."
Are these errors really important? Surely, the movies are a little easier to follow, but Nielsen observes that people have a tendency to believe that, if they can't find or do something on a computer system, it's their fault, not the program's, and movies that inaccurately portray a usability utopia further ingrain the psychological willingness to keep plugging away instead of demanding systems that are easier to use.
All of that may be true, of course, but filmmakers are in the business of making movies, not solving our problems. It's our job to make the systems usable. - Cam Beck