Many humans are less inhibited when they’re typing then when they are speaking face-to-face. Teenagers are less shy. With cellphone text messages, they’re more likely to ask each other out on dates. That genre of software was so successful socially that it’s radically improving millions of people’s love lives (or at least their social calendars). Even though text messaging has a ghastly user interface, it became extremely popular with the kids. The joke of it is that there’s a much better user interface built into every cellphone for human to human communication: this clever thing called “phone calls.” You dial a number after which everything you say can be heard by the other person, and vice versa. It’s that simple. But it’s not as popular in some circles as this awkward system where you break your thumbs typing huge strings of numbers just to say “damn you’re hot,” because that string of numbers gets you a date, and you would never have the guts to say “damn you’re hot” using your larynx. —Joel Spolsky —It’s Not Just Usability (Joel on Software)
Spolsky tweaks software design guru Jakob Nielsen, with the claim that “an application that does something really great that people really want to do can be pathetically unusable, and it will still be a hit.” True. Bad usability will may scare away people who haven’t made a decision yet, but if you’re committed, then you keep working regardless of the interface headaches.
I remind myself of this every time I click the “Start” button in order to shut down my Windows computer.