Design for a fax and Alexander's tree

H. W. Thimbleby, 1997, "Design for a Fax," Personal Technologies, 1(2), pp101--117. This article is a very compelling discussion about the usability of button-controlled devices. It exemplifies this question through examining the design of a 1993/4 domestic phone/fax/answerphone machine (DF200). Some excerpts I found interesting:

Christopher Alexander’s classic paper, “A city is not a tree,” (Alexander, 1965) makes an eloquent argument for not designing cities as trees, but rather as semi-lattices. A tree-like organisation isolates activities (industry, education, health, housing, ...) into separate areas without overlap. This means people have to travel between areas, and their lives become compartmentalised with increasing problems as they become older, and isolated into regions specialised to old peoples’ needs. However, the tree structure suits designers because of its conceptual simplicity.

We see a similar effect in the design of the DF200. Its functionality is organised as a tree, with each function isolated into its area. Unfortunately, the area it is isolated in is the specific and unique area the designer thought appropriate. Unfortunately the user may not see it like that!

Why do I blog this? I like questions raised by the authors like "Why is no serious usability design done in mass-market devices?", this is so true, The studies I conducted about remote-controllers strikingly showed similar issues. Besides, I found interesting this use of Alexander's metaphor (different from the pattern thing).