Error Messages Are Evil

Richmond richmondmathewson at gmail.com
Mon May 12 00:59:22 EDT 2014


On 05/12/2014 01:41 AM, Dar Scott wrote:
> Ah, I have much to learn.
>
> I said, “The house was painted red.”
>
> I should have said, “The house was painted redly.”

LOL!

You made my Monday a thousand times more cheerful.

Thanks so much.

Richmond.

>
> Dar
>
>
> On May 11, 2014, at 1:43 PM, Richmond <richmondmathewson at gmail.com> wrote:
>
>> On 11/05/14 21:48, Alejandro Tejada wrote:
>>> Recent article published by Don Norman.
>>> http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/error_messages_are_e.html
>>>
>>> "Error messages punish people for not behaving like machines.
>>> It is time we let people behave like people. When a problem
>>> arises, we should call it machine error, not human error:
>>>
>>> the machine was designed wrong, demanding that we conform
>>> to its peculiar requirements. It is time to design and build
>>> machines that conform to our requirements.
>> Indeed: but how?
>>
>> Mind you, if Donald Norman (who has been banging on about Usability theory and 'affordance'
>> for years) wants to write about machine errors, he should at least correct his human error and
>> get his English grammar sorted out:
>>
>> "the machine was designed wrong"
>>
>> is a simple grammatical error any person who wants to be taken seriously, and has any academic
>> pretensions, should not make.
>>
>> "the machine was designed wrongly"
>>
>> Obviously Donald Norman doesn't know that verbs are modified by adverbs, not adjectives:
>> that is HUMAN ERROR.
>>
>> ---------------------------------------------------------
>>
>> "It is time to design and build machines that conform to our requirements"
>>
>> Well, oddly enough, all machines that I know of are designed by humans, and are very rarely,
>> if ever, designed to annoy the people who use them, but in conformance to their requirements.
>>
>> --------------------------------------------------------
>>
>> Donald Norman started his career years ago by making some blindingly obvious remarks about
>> door handles being put on the wrong way round, or on the wrong sides of door . . . and he did
>> have a point; now he, as a "one trick pony" has extended that into areas which do not connect
>> with door handles.
>>
>> -------------------------------------------------------
>>
>> What Norman might have done is criticise GUI, and in very many cases the criticism would be valid.
>>
>> What Norman conveniently overlooks is that millions of people use computers with
>> "badly designed" interfaces, "badly designed" keyboards (he had a right royal rant about the QWERTY
>> keyboard) and don't seem to feel an urge to get up from their collective bottom and radically
>> redesign everything.
>>
>> The same could be said for the efforts of the late Jeff Raskin.
>>
>> --------------------------------
>>
>> Error messages are a necessity, not because computer systems are designed badly, but because
>> humans and computers are completely different things that work in completely different ways.
>>
>> If babies had error messages parenting would be 1000 times easier.
>>
>> All an error message is is a computer's way of telling us it doesn't understand; because a computer
>> is, frankly, a very stupid mathematical calculator, and we humans are not. If a computer did not
>> throw up error messages we would never know when we were failing to get a machine to do what we wanted it to do: that would make life far more difficult than any error message.
>>> Stop confronting us: Collaborate with us."
>>>
>>>
>> Computers never "confront" us; they are not capable of that. All a computer does is tell you it does
>> not understand what you have told it to do.
>>
>> Accusing a computer of "confronting us" is a socking great anthropomorphism which only serves to show that Norman has very little understanding of what a computer is and what it can do.
>>
>> The fact is that a computer can ONLY do what we tell it to; and it ONLY "understands" a load of electronic pulses. Clever people have made our lives easier by designing graphical representations
>> of what goes on inside a computer and nicer ways of getting a computer to do what you want it
>> to. Some people are not quite as clever as other people, and they have designed less effective
>> ways of getting a computer to do something.
>>
>> ------------------
>>
>> "Error messages punish people"
>>
>> "punish" ; utter rubbish.
>>
>> Error messages are more important than Norman realises.
>>
>> Before he makes any further pronouncements of this sort Donald Norman needs to do the
>> following to things:
>>
>> 1. Go on holiday to a country where he doesn't speak the language and nobody there speaks his.
>>
>> 2. Get time allotted to himself on a VAX machine (if there are any left) and learn a spot of
>> Assembler language, and then try and type an e-mail message to his best friend using only
>> Assembler language on the VAX.
>>
>> ---------------------
>>
>> It's amazing how purified I feel after a rant of that sort.
>>
>> But, having had to read about 3 of Norman's book and attend interminable lectures on
>> Usability theory at the "University" of Abertay I feel very strongly indeed about what he says, and
>> have given it some considerable thought.
>>
>> Richmond.
>>
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