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Darwinian Design



QWERTY.  Mean anything to you?  Chances are pretty high that the answer is yes if you are reading this since QWERTY has become the standard arrangement of keys to facilitate fast, accurate typing since the very first typewriters went into production.

Back then issues such as key jamming were rife and there was evidence that placing frequently used letters further apart from each other, actually increased typing speed.  Keys were also angled diagonally to minimise issues with the mechanical linkages of the machine. 

Unless you are still using a manual typewriter or ancient word processer (and if so, how the devil are you reading this?), none of these issues exist and so various people have put forward alternatives to this ‘classic’ design.  As well as significantly increasing the speed of typing, other benefits exist such as ability to minimise repetitive strain injury.

So why then, have these new miracle keyboards not gone into mass production?  The reason is simple.  Most people don’t like change.  We like life to run smoothly, predictably even, unless of course we decide we want a bit of excitement and for most of us even that is some kind of ‘organised fun’.

Even if we decide do something mad like, oooh jump of a cliff into a fathomless pool, we first don a safety helmet and maybe even throw on a life jacket after all there is no sense in taking unnecessary risks is there?

Typing itself, even for those who need to peep at the keys to know where to go next, is a complex process involving the cognition not only of the words we are going to type, but also our muscular skeletal responses.

It is a complex interaction of man and machine in which even the differing rate of depressions from one key pad to another can have the type of reaction most commonly noted when swapping from a comfortable pair of slippers to a pair of spiky heels.

Take away our standard format of keys and you might as well have stolen candy from a baby.  Stand back and watch our faces redden in anger, our jaws and fists clench (not terribly helpful for typing) and tears of anger well up in our eyes.  Too far you say? Maybe, but keyboard rage is anything but pretty.

And this, I fear, is where many innovators go wrong.  They ideals are pure, there is no doubting it, but baby steps, teeny weeny little baby steps is sometimes a better way.  Iterations that gently guide users from where they are, to where they need to go (you do, after all, have their best interests at heart) can be the key.

There are of course, two philosophies.  Throw them in at the deep end and hope they sink or swim and that your user experience design will wow them quickly with its charm and elegance. If you have invested heavily in mapping your user experience and designing the appropriate interface early on and are confident that you have got it right, then this could be a risk worth taking.

If, however, time, cost or other factors have got in your way, then you need to perhaps adopt the comfort, stretch and never panic approach.

Much like a monkey swinging from tree to tree, your user won’t always let go of one branch until they have firm sight of another, so helping them to cross over from one design to the next by layering iterations, can be a good way to achieve your goal.

Perhaps a new button appearing on a screen and the gradual die off of the old may work, preserving much of the old functionality while layering on the new.

Education also plays an important part and quick, instructional videos perhaps with fun animation can ally customers to the benefits whilst also giving them a gentle ‘how to’

Whatever approach you decide to take from a Darwinian-esque gentle evolution to the invasion, landing and assimilation of an entirely new species, ask your users!  User centred design is really the only way to guarantee successful up-take.

Nicola Wilson is a mommy blogger from the UK, she is currently working for TWDG Ltd part time whilst running a family and looking after her children. Nicola has a huge interest in home design and decor.

Categories: Blog Design

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