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The Two Sides of Technology

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There are two sides to every coin, and two versions of every story, so what's the deal with technology?

There has always been a running assumption that technology was developed for humanity, by humanity, for the good of humanity. So why then, are there so many tech-handicapped people out there? I can look at any given device, and find both lovers and haters of that hardware. The same goes for apps, for software programs, and utilities. So what gives?

The variety of reactions to a technology product lies in the use-ability design of it. Its not what something is, but how it's used that makes it ultimately effective or astoundingly annoying. Matching up the design of a product with what users will try to do with that product is a daunting task for any designer. The key here is that technology tends to ratchet up the level of complexity that end users can either leverage or begrudgingly deal with. Its the difference between a broom and dustpan versus a computerized Roomba vacuum.

The bottom line for users is that a product is seen as providing a list of use features associated with the design. The end user then matches that list with their own mental wish list of what they need a product to do. If I need a trusty broom to sweep up a mess, I would want a sturdy handle, bristles that can adapt to uneven surfaces, and maybe the ability to clean these bristles with warm water. All that's left for me to do is to find such a broom, and my problem is solved. But if I add a dash of technology to that broom; program-ability, battery power, motors and sensors, all of the sudden I'm sweeping up my kitchen using a space shuttle.

There seems to be an inherent "technology intuition" that exists in a percentage of human population, where tech devices and products seem very easy to use and understand. The extremes of this crowd will exhibit tech nerdism, with multiple smartphones, Google Glass, a pocket tablet, and a spare lithium polymer battery in their back pocket or purse.

Those tech-blind, who lack such nerdism have trouble turning on a fax machine or finding an enter key on a touch screen. Tech devices to these folks either come across as too complex, too convoluted, or require too much effort to use conveniently.

At the end of the day, products live and die by how easy or difficult it is for end users to use them. A perfectly good device can fall flat if it doesn't deliver on it's list of features. These features are what potential users rely on to make the decision to try a product and ultimately whether to keep it or return it.

As a designer, the best way to ensure success for your product is to bridge the tech divide between tech nerds and the tech blind. As an end user, your best bet is to redefine how you formulate your product wish list. After all, technology devices offer so many features that they can overwhelm even the broadest of wish lists. With a little effort and some research, anyone can transform from tech newbie to tech savvy, whether you're the designer or the customer.

Just remember that there are two sides to everything...