Why do we put up with poor design?

I’m becoming extremely intolerant of poor design and it amazes me that so many people tolerate it.

Sometimes the end justifies the means: putting up with poor design might be justified because the product does something well in the end and its worth putting up with an unpleasant user experience to get there. My fuse for this sort of stuff is getting shorter it seems and I’m guessing that a piece of this is that I collect and use things that are very well designed and a joy to use so when things are poorly designed that unpleasant experience stands out.

One of the important issues at play here is that many people don’t know where their own lack of knowledge (they think “stupidity”) ends and poor design begins so they are reluctant to call it out for fear it’s just them being less than smart. This is no doubt one of the main reasons people put up with poor design: they think it’s them, not the product. Another reason is: if everyone else loves product x and I find it less than wonderful, maybe the reason is me. Put these two together and it’s a recipe for the perpetuation of bad design.

The Fuji FinePix X100 camera is an example of this: Beautiful camera, takes excellent pictures but the firmware/menu system is so poorly designed and buggy that it undermines the whole experience of using the camera. I’d have attempted to buy this camera had I found the menu system well thought out. Many are acknowledging the poor menu system but tolerate it because the camera makes excellent images. I get this but my ability to do that is diminishing over time.

Our Sony HD TV is another example of it. The picture quality is so amazingly good I love the TV but god help you if you need to get into its menu system to do something like attempt to turn off the startup sound. Why can’t the menu system be as beautiful as the picture? It’s like this piece of the design was a last minute afterthought. I still haven’t figured out how to turn the annoying startup sound off after a year with the TV.

My latest experience with this and the reason for this post is my experience yesterday attempting to update the printer drivers for my relatively new Epson Stylus Pro 3880 printer. I knew I’d bump into some upgrade issues when I upgraded to Lion and almost all of my applications and utilities have handled this beautifully with no hassle at all. If you missed the above linked to post on the new printer, the end of it discusses problems I had with Epson’s installation process: their use of the now ancient Installer Vice corrupted my already installed profiles.

So, the other day I tried to print with the 3880 from Lightroom now running under Lion and nothing happened. No problem, I attempted to use the Print/Fax system preference pane to look for a new version of the driver but non was found (my HP laser printer updated itself in 10 seconds this way).

When I went to the Epson support site looking for help with this I found a confusing list of updates.

Note: the only mention of Lion is in the sidebar under News and Alerts. If you follow that link you get this:

Mac OS X 10.6 drivers are compatible with Mac OS X 10.7

Well, I already had those drivers installed so this isn’t true and I couldn’t print. But, what Epson failed to mention is that there was a new version of those drivers without a new number up at their site. Amazingly stupid. They have the new number listed on the download page (v.6.60) but under it they say the driver is compatible with: “Macintosh OS X (v10.4.11 – v10.6.x).” Why the hell didn’t they give the driver the version number 7 is beyond me and why not list OS X v.7 as the end point of the range?


I downloaded the update and of course it installed with Installer Vice. Given that it was just the driver with no profiles I chanced using Vice again and amazingly it worked.

But, my god, how and why do people put up with this? They put up with it either because the ends justify the means or because they don’t know any different: they don’t have enough experience with well designed products to know one when they see one.

I have the very same issues with another product a Dymo LabelWriter Printer. The printer is amazingly useful and I can’t live without it, but the software that runs it is crap. I put up with it because my handwriting is terrible and I don’t want to hand address envelopes but my god, each time I update this awful software it’s like pulling wisdom teeth. How and why do people put up with this?

No doubt there are personal learning and operating style preferences at play here: some people find one set of experiences easy, intuitive, no problem while another set of people might find those very same things hard, unintuitive and impossible. But, I do believe that those of us who recognize good and less than good design need to vote with our wallets and simply not buy stuff that doesn’t work well. At the very least we should give detailed feedback to the likes of Epson and Dymo so they know what they’re doing wrong.

Rant off.


Just finished installing Mac OS 10.7 Lion on this machine, will do my wife’s machine tomorrow from DVD. Before installing I did yet another complete backup with SuperDuper just so I’d be able to get back to my last Snow Leopard environment if Lion stubbed its toe on install.

I highly recommend reading this and the linked to posts on making a backup DVD of the Lion installer. I’ve followed the directions in those posts and it’s all worked out well.

The install took about 15 minutes on this computer (current MacBook Pro with SSD). The entire process is so slick, so well designed and thought out it’s just amazing how far we’ve come since the early days of Font/DA mover and such.

The fan is on at the moment as Spotlight re-indexes my hard disk.

A window will appear warning about new scrolling behavior. The new behavior is part of the move to allow Mac OS to mimic a multitouch display. I found the initial setting on scrolling unintuitive so changed it in the Mouse System Preference pane.

Mouse / Point & Click / Scroll Direction Natural checkbox. Uncheck that box and scrolling will return to what you may be used to.

Three finger swipe on the trackpad takes you to the Dashboard which is very nice. There’s a ton more and I plan to explore it all in time. But, the nice thing is there’s no rush to do it because so far everything works just like before.

The fan stopped, indexing done.

I’ve been Lionized.

Installing Lion on multiple Macs

Apple has just released the newest OS upgrade for the Mac: Mac OS 10.7 Lion. Apple is not selling boxes of CD/DVDs however, they are selling Lion through the Mac App Store as a paid download.

We have a few Macs in our house and a single purchase of Lion for $29.95 will cover a licensed version of the OS on all of them.

I’ve been thinking of how to do this without having to buy and download it on each Mac and how to create a backup copy of the clean OS for emergencies.

Egg Freckles (Thomas Brand) has given us a useful post: Burning a Lion Boot Disc. In it he takes us step by step through buying Lion for one computer, then using Disk Utility to make a disk image so that one can then burn a Lion install DVD for use on other machines and as a backup clean install.

iPad vs MacBook Air for a serious photo trip

On the road with a camera, an iPad, and a Hyperdrive

Ben Long at Macworld does a nice job of framing the various issues of traveling (in Turkey) on a photo assignment with what sounds like a Canon 5D MK II (large RAW files), an iPad, and other tools for working with his images on the road.

Ben goes to great lengths to use an iPad by adding a folding keyboard and a HyperDrive (storage device for photos) but commenter “ekornblum” calls him on the portability factor with this insightful comment:

OK, let’s stop the madness.

The iPad 2 weighs 607 grams. The HyperDrive (including drive module & battery) weighs 298 g. The keyboard weighs 159 g. Combined that’s 1064 g, or 1.064 kg.

A MacBook Air 11 inch weighs… 1.06 kg.

It weighs less and is much more functional (faster processors, more ram, full fledged apps, higher res screen), and is smaller than all 3 of the above items combined.

Yeah, you only get 128 GB storage, but you could just add a regular external bus powered drive that’s about 200 g (smaller & lighter than the HyperDrive), so the weight difference is minimal.

Or a MacBook Air 13 inch weighs 1.32 kg and provides 256 GB, with even higher screen res. Once again, that’s only 256 grams more weight than the iPad, HyperDrive, & keyboard.

I gotta call silly on this one…

There are times when it will make sense to carry a computer running Mac OS to have better access to files and software and a real keyboard and it seems to me that this is one of them. Even an 11″ MacBook Air would be an improvement here but as the commenter says, there’s room for a 13″ model and one still has a lighter solution.

I think I might trust a service like DropBox or in the future, iCloud for storage rather than the HyperDrive which runs the risk of being stolen or breaking down on a trip. Or, why not just have a lot of CF cards and maybe some pre-paid mailers to send them home.

This is an interesting “problem” and no doubt there are many ways to handle it. Of course, first you need to book a trip.

Creation myth

Malcolm Gladwell Looks at Technology Innovations

Robert Siegel (All Things Considered) and Malcolm Gladwell look at the mythic story of how Steve Jobs toured Xerox PARC in 1979 and came away with the basic ingredients of the Macintosh computer. This is a brief discussion of a piece Gladwell has in the May 16th issue of The New Yorker.

PARC = Palo Alto Research Center. Xerox PARC was a think tank much like IBM’s Watson Research Center or MIT’s Media Lab and the folks at PARC developed some of the fundamental tools of personal computing but they never made these tools commercial, they were expensive prototypes that Xerox had no way to turn into products.

Some think Jobs stole the ideas but Gladwell (and others including me) think he took the essence of the ideas and simplified and improved them and found ways to engineer them so they were affordable.

Technically speaking, it wasn’t only Jobs who was on the tour that day, it was also Bill Atkinson who designed much of the original Macintosh user interface and underlying operating system along with other members of the original Macintosh Team at Apple. Atkinson has said numerous times that he got the idea for overlapping windows on the PARC tour but the way he did it on the Macintosh (the programming) was totally different from anything the folks at PARC knew about. This underscores Gladwell’s point about the difference between being first, and being first with a viable product.