Death of the Save Button
I finally figured out what bugs me about modern digital interfaces. They work for other people.
When I started working with computers they were truly the realm of geeks. Going back to my first computer in 1984 where I had to wire up a tape deck for storage and use an old television set just so to see the 22 columns of text.
I had to teach myself BASIC (which I learned was Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code and wasn't as all purpose as all that) just so the thing would do something, and getting it to do anything at all was pretty cool. Of course, this is probably when I developed my writing style of about a page or so, because the whopping 5K of memory would only hold about 3/4 of a page of text before having to save it to the cassette tape, a process that took about a minute and a half.
Moving forward to my first mobile device in the distant future of The Year 2000, I had a Palm Pilot with a cellular modem. I remember having coffee one day and the waitress bashfully interrupted me to ask what that thing was. Apparently they were having bets in the kitchen that I was some kind of double-oh level spy with gadgets delivered from Q by nuclear submarine.
But, no. I was just a geek who was so far ahead of the curve you couldn’t even see the iPhone around the bend.
Which brings me to my recurring old-man-rant-theme: “Get off my technological lawn!” I hate the fact that when I make changes in my Google account there isn’t a “Save” button. It bugs me that there is no command line interface on my droid (well, there is, but you gotta be really dedicated to get in there, and you risk bricking your device, but I digress).
You see, my people used to build the User Interface. By “my people” I mean the guys who had to build their own tools and built them around the tech. Saving to disk was a process involving knowing what kind of disk you were saving to, how you mounted that disk, and what protocol you used to do all this. As klunky as a “Save” button may be to you, it represented a huge streamlining of an arcane process.
Which is why non-geeks get frustrated when geeks say, “But look how easy it is!” and geeks get frustrated when non-geeks can’t figure out how the hell to use a Save button.
But we don’t build UIs anymore. Madison Avenue stepped in a few years ago and started talking about UX, or User Experience (which confused the hell out of the UNIX geeks, but set that aside). These people do focus groups, research, and actually think like the little old lady from Minneapolis who “just wants it to work.”
It’s ironic that I find myself looking at my technical navel and realizing that I miss the old days when digital technology was the domain of smart people who liked puzzles. I have spent most of my career explaining to geeks that “normal people don’t want Easter egg navigation” and to try to make things easier to understand.
But we’ve passed beyond what I considered “normal” -- the expectations people have about how this stuff should work are so far removed from mounting a disk drive that they might as well not even be using a computer.
Which is exactly what normal people want.