Monday, September 25, 2006

Logic Versus Usage: The Case for Activity-Centered Design

Ordering things by taxonomies or taskonomies ...

"In my consulting activities, I often have to explain to companies that they are too logical, too rational. Human behavior seldom follows mathematical logic and reasoning. By the standards of engineers, human behavior can be illogical and irrational. From the standpoint of people, however, their behavior is quite sensible, dictated by the activity being performed, the environment and context, and their higher-level goals. To support real behavior we need activity-centered design.

Years ago, anthropologists Janet Dougherty and Charles Keller studied how blacksmiths organize their tools. Blacksmiths, they discovered, don't put all the hammers neatly away on the shelves, all together. No, when blacksmiths clean up at night, the hammer goes on the ground, right next to the anvil, and next to the tongs: all the tools are organized so that they are ready for the job, ready for use. In similar fashion, good carpenters, while working, keep nails near their hammers. In other words, good behavioral organization reflects human activity structure, not dictionary classification. Dougherty and Keller called this form of organization taskonomy.

Many of the design tools used by the Human-Centered Design community lead to well-structured, carefully organized designs, often using powerful card-sorting and hierarchical clustering algorithms to make similar things be located near one another. Call this the "Hardware store" organization. Hammers are in the hammer section where they are all logically arranged. Nails are in the nail section.

The hardware store organization is based upon a taxonomy: appropriate for libraries and for stores where the major problem is locating the desired item out of context. But note that some stores have learned to provide activity-centered organization in addition to their normal classification. Thus, smart food stores put potato chips and pretzels next to the beer. And some even put beer next to the diapers, so that when a shopper makes a late night, emergency trip to get more diapers, why there is the beer, temptingly convenient. Sensible, well-organized logical design would not support this real behavior."    (Continued via    [Usability Resources]


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