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The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity (2nd Edition) Paperback – Feb 24 2004
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In this book about the darker side of technology's impact on our lives, Alan Cooper begins by explaining that unlike other devices throughout history, computers have a "meta function:" an unwanted, unforeseen option that users may accidentally invoke with what they thought was a normal keystroke. Cooper details many of these meta functions to explain his central thesis: programmers need to seriously reevaluate the many user-hostile concepts deeply embedded within the software development process.
Rather than provide users with a straightforward set of options, programmers often pile on the bells and whistles and ignore or deprioritize lingering bugs. For the average user, increased functionality is a great burden, adding to the recurrent chorus that plays, "computers are hard, mysterious, unwieldy things." (An average user, Cooper asserts, who doesn't think that way or who has memorized all the esoteric commands and now lords it over others, has simply been desensitized by too many years of badly designed software.)
Cooper's writing style is often overblown, with a pantheon of cutesy terminology (i.e., "dancing bearware") and insider back-patting. (When presenting software to Bill Gates, he reports that Gates replied: "How did you do that?" to which he writes, "I love stumping Bill!") More seriously, he is also unable to see beyond software development's importance--a sin he accuses programmers of throughout the book.
Even with that in mind, the central questions Cooper asks are too important to ignore: Are we making users happier? Are we improving the process by which they get work done? Are we making their work hours more effective? Cooper looks to programmers, business managers, and what he calls "interaction designers" to question current assumptions and mindsets. Plainly, he asserts that the goal of computer usage should be "not to make anyone feel stupid." Our distance from that goal reinforces the need to rethink entrenched priorities in software planning. --Jennifer Buckendorff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
Imagine, at a terrifyingly aggressive rate, everything you regularly use is being equipped with computer technology. Think about your phone, cameras, cars-everything-being automated and programmed by people who in their rush to accept the many benefits of the silicon chip, have abdicated their responsibility to make these products easy to use. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum argues that the business executives who make the decisions to develop these products are not the ones in control of the technology used to create them. Insightful and entertaining, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum uses the author's experiences in corporate America to illustrate how talented people continuously design bad software-based products and why we need technology to work the way average people think. Somewhere out there is a happy medium that makes these types of products both user and bottom-line friendly; this book discusses why we need to quickly find that medium.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
These shortcomings are not solved by adding a layer of another design person partially disconnected from the user, or making the screen prettier. It is by adapting the Extreme Programming/Agile programming methods of including the user in everything from design to testing, so the software reflects how the user does business.
I still liked the book, just not clear on the message.
That's not to say that he isn't serious about what he has to say... clearly, he is very serious. In describing the difference between a Designer and a Developer, and even in more detail when contrasting a Visual Designer and an Interaction Designer, he makes clear just how important this subject is, and how the differences he is talking about can determine the process by which a piece of software or application comes together, and the success of the final product. His obvious frustrations with the roadblocks to effective user-focused design should be understood by anyone involved in the design process.
The pinnacle of the book, for me, came in the middle. At the end of Part 3 ("Eating Soup with a Fork" -- great title), he discusses the relationship between humans and technology. He says something so simple that it should have been obvious, but it's really a fairly major shift in perception from what many people think. He talks about the assumption that technology is dehumanizing here:
"It doesn't require sophisticated tools to dehumanize your fellow humans -- a glance or a kick does it as well. It is not technology that is dehumanizing. It is the technologists, or the processes that technologists use, that create dehumanizing products."
This is important to what Cooper is trying to say in "Inmates" in so many ways. The theme of the book throughout seemed to be that interaction design is only as friendly, or as UN-friendly, as people make it.Read more ›
It's also mentioned quickly, but the idea of how much work customers are willing to do for an amount of benefit can affect your designs for the better as well. Fundamentally, you should add value with no documentation and no setup -- if somebody paid money, they should feel rewarded as soon as they start to use your application. Then, after they want to do new things, you can require more work of them to do it. However, it should never be more work than the benefit that they derive! This is an important lesson that, say, most media player application writers would be advised to learn...
Of course, as many other reviewers have pointed out, it might have been nice if he had created some personas for who his readers were. I doubt that any of them would have had a goal of being preached to.
Most recent customer reviews
The book does a fair job of pointing out the problems with the complexity of modern technology, and offers some administrative solutions that have worked for the author as a... Read morePublished on Aug. 7 2010 by Gord McKenna
I work for a large computer company that makes software. This book was instrumental in creating and organizing our human interface engineering department. Read morePublished on Feb. 17 2004
Cooper gets it. He understands that computers and electronics are designed by engineeers, for engineers. But what if you want to design something for the masses? Read morePublished on Dec 24 2003 by Gregory Glockner
This book actually starts out nicely up until the point where it turns into a high-pitched whine about everything that the author hates. Read morePublished on Oct. 11 2003 by A Reviewer
This book is written for two audiences. The frustrated computer user will enjoy the early chapters with its anecdotes about computers failing to meet human needs. Read morePublished on Sept. 25 2003 by Chris Struble
I kept thinking "we think alike"; not about interaction design per se - the topic of this book - but an evangelistic passion and the desire to somehow convey the deep... Read morePublished on May 29 2003 by R. Jones
Super book. I've been involved on the business side of web, portal and content management software projects for many years; this is the best argument on the market for bringing... Read morePublished on May 8 2003 by Alden Globe
I found I really had to force myself to finish reading this book. The core concepts are covered in the first half of the book, albeit in a rather drawn out fashion, and the rest is... Read morePublished on April 30 2003 by Ray Hatfield
This is a good book that i read last month. I wanted to write it but thanks that Alan did it. so i think this is a common problem felt by all usability engineers. Read morePublished on Feb. 12 2003 by Gadget Guru
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