A matter of ease of use

You open the case, pop in the cassette into the player and press Play. It’s that easy to use a VCR. With disc format it has always been a little bit more convoluted; you open the case, pop in the disc, navigate the menus, and then possibly you are able to press Play.

Convoluted is a keyword when it comes to design of use. You want to avoid it as much as possible. However, making things far too simple in certain fields also produce results that nobody really likes. VCRs are in this regard a shining example in concept, as they require minimal input from the customer to access the purchased content and get the most out of the player’s basic function. However, the design of different players add loads of different features from different speed recordings and numerous other functions I’ve already forgotten about. Nevertheless, this kind of simplicity is always good as one of the goals to achieve in any design.

DVD and BD are a little different matter. Personally I do not find them any worse than using any other playback device in their regard, but I can’t but help to think that something went wrong when designing their interface either on-disc or in players.

While I have nothing against menus in disc formats, I do have a lot against their design interfaces in most cases. How many times have you found a disc that has loads of stupid design choices either visually or in function? Simplicity should and ease of use is lost in some discs, and I have to applaud to a lot of cheap releases for having the right idea of putting the budget into something else than damn menu screens. But no, almost all of the bigger releases have animated menus, menus with music, menus with selections that make no sense. I recall having a disc somewhere, where the menu selection where allocated into the four corners of the screen, and it made no sense how the indicator went between them. You’d expect it to move from upmost left corner to right and then down, but I can assure you that it didn’t. It shouldn’t be that hard to make simple intro screen, perhaps with a theme tune playing in the background, and simple to use menu.

But simplicity also can cause problems. With disc and cassette players it’s easy to make them function with minimal amount of effort from the user, but something like a computer operating system is a different kind of beast.

Windows is arguably the best operating system out there, otherwise it wouldn’t be as widespread and abused as it is. However, with every new iteration new problems rise as they have made Windows into more something that everybody can use.

There used to be time when using a computer required actual knowledge on how the hell you use a computer. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve forgotten loads of DOS commands that old computers needed and I used to be able to code in Pascal quite well, but with these new machines these kind of skills are unneeded. As Windows has been moved more into realm of ease of use, all the most complex functions have been moved behind the curtains of the operating system, thus the user is mostly unable to access these. In older systems you were able to access these for your own pleasure, and thus change various settings for your liking.

I do see and value Apple’s aim with their computers, but making their machines completely closed isn’t really the best option. If anyone would bother making a proper virus to a Mac OS, pretty much every Apple machine out there would be under serious threat. History has shown that pirates and hackers put their effort into systems and machines with greatest value, a reason that one should take notice why either PSVita and 3DS has not been hacked yet; it’s not that it’s impossible, it’s just that it doesn’t have enough reward to do so.

As a designer my aim in most cases is to lessen the customers’ stress to learn something new to properly use any device. However, sometimes it would be better for the customer himself to take matters in their own hands and learn to use something more advanced than just pressing play button. I would really recommend everybody to learn their computers’ OS better, what it does, what different term mean and all that, because then you are able to use your computer better and closer to its full potential. Same with every other device and system out there.

However, that doesn’t allow the designer to make convoluted shit.