You'll Never Have Enough Cheese

This Human Factors International presentation (ppt) references something called a Columbia Obstruction Device:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Nice pictures. :slight_smile:

What kind of crazy user looks forward to
using a document management system?

Well, one who’s spent years working with filing cabinets. Your example might not be perfect, in the sense at least that there are people for whom a DMS is in fact delicious cheese indeed, and they will endure a fairly high dose of shock to get it. (Document management was my entry into computers, which is why I have an opinion on this.)

But your point is well taken. Only the geekiest nerds seek out a camera, say, that has an extra high quotient of fiddly bits, the better to “have control” over the camera. The rest of humanity just wants point-and-shoot, and perfect results also, please.

I hate Windows, yet I use it every day. :confused:

there are people for whom a DMS is in fact delicious cheese indeed, and they will endure a fairly high dose of shock to get it.

Well it’s not the “management” part that users are interested in. The documents, perhaps. Joel mentions this in his CNN example, arguing that it doesn’t matter how poorly or well designed CNN is because the content is so compelling. Now, I’m not sure that is entirely true, since you can get news from many different sources, but it’s a reasonable observation.

In some sense, all software is an electric shock-- an obstruction to a goal. We don’t care about using software, we care about reaching our goal, whatever that is.

Since it’s nearly impossible to tell what goals are worth reaching, or what users will ultimately want, I say focus on reducing the shock. That will ALWAYS benefit the project… even if you are working on a corporately mandated app (fex, you must use our crappy web app to enter your hours worked every day-- whee!) which nobody actually WANTS to use.

Hell, even mention usability to most developers and you’ll get a “Huh?”. Excellent article.

I hate Windows, yet I use it every day. :confused:

Just like any other decent, god-fearing person should do :wink:

… I guess that Microsoft got the biggest piece of cheese by their side on that one over Linux… With a Windows-running machine rather than Linux, you have a wider array of software available for you… In my case, Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Freehand (due to my graphic designer job) are the two main reasons stopping me from switching to Linux (which, by the way, both programs are also perfect examples of afwul UIs but great usability).

You know, that graph of shock size vs. cheese size makes no sense.

i agree with fluffy; the graph as it is now doesn’t show the “napsters” – high shock but high cheese – as being on the “go” side. the graph should really be shock on the y axis and cheese on the x axis, with the line being the “acceptible” ratio. i expect the line would look like an exponential curve with a limit near the high end of the cheese axis.

Well, I didn’t make the graph :slight_smile:

But I agree, it only covers the simplest usable vs. not-usable scenario. I doubt usability consultants like HFI want to acknowledge the fact that, if you have enough cheese, you don’t need ANY usability.

I stand by my original assertion, though: there are a handful of apps with the kind of cheese you’d need to get away with those interfaces. And the odds of us working on one of them are, uh, slim.

It’s hard to argue with this equation, as far as it goes. But it is unfortunate that “usability” has come to be the name that user-experience practitioners work under. (This is of course partly our own fault.) Nevertheless, a good user experience process emphasizes the creation of useful software first, and moves later in the lifecycle to methods that promote usability. Read more at

I think they must have made it up, since in real life mice don’t like cheese that much -

As much as the analogy holds, the “shock” is relative to other options. I see too many designers worried about “shock” that is insignificant compared to the alternatives.