Taking users' needs into account and not giving them sth useless
Lars Erik Holmquist's column in ACM's interactions is always very refreshing. This month he's tackling an interesting issue in designing applications for a certain niche: policemen and he is wondering about people who found it useful and effective to give them computers in their cars.
It seems the people who made the police-car system were fixated on the idea of a computer, whereas the policemen just have a job that needs to be done. And it is not at all clear to me that any new computer interface would actually make that job easier. Perhaps the policemen do not need a computer at all; they just need some way of taking notes and passing information along to each other. If so, a small piece of whiteboard could be the best—and certainly cheapest—solution. (...) any policemen have installed their own piece of information technology: a small cut-out piece of whiteboard-like material that goes on the dashboard, in the same place where the computer screen would have been. They use this to scribble important information when they are sent on an assignment, to take notes when talking to a colleague on the radio, to write down orders for pizza, and to pass information along to the next team that is going to have the car. When the information has been used, it is easily wiped off. None of this functionality is available in the in-car computer.
The author advocates for a user-centered approach to design proper applications that would fit policemen's needs. I really like the comparison between the two systems (on the left: a commercial police-car computer—expensive and rarely used and on the right: The policemen's own IT solution—a small piece of plastic for taking temporary notes.)