El diseño de las cosas cotidianas, 3

Este tercer y último fragmento de The Design of Everyday Things, de Donald Norman, es, sobre todo, divertido, porque intenta proyectarse a qué ocurrirá con la introducción del hipertexto en nuestra manera de aproximarnos a la escritura y la presentación lineal de información. Guarda, por supuesto, una estrecha relación con el primer y el segundo pasaje que compartí antes.

So, what do you think of hypertext? Imagine trying to write something using it. The extra freedom also poses extra requirements. If hypertext really becomes available, especially in the fancy version now being talked about – where words, sounds, video, computer graphics, simulations, and more are all available at the touch of the screen – well, it is hard to imagine anyone capable of preparing the material. It will take teams of people. I predict that there will be much experimentation, and much failure, before the dimensions of this new technology are fully explored and understood.

One thing that does bother me, however,is the belief that hypertext will save the author from having to put material in linear order. Wrong. To think this is to allow for sloppiness in writing and presentation. It is hard work to organize material, but that effort on the part of the writer is essential for the ease of the reader. Take away the need for this discipline and I fear that you pass the burden on to the reader, who may not be able to cope, and may not care to try. The advent of hypertext is apt to make writing much more difficult, not easier. Good writing, that is.

Pero tengo que decir que estoy en desacuerdo con su último punto. Me parece interesante que señale que la carga productiva ya no puede recaer en una sola persona, si no en equipos, pero no creo que la demanda de una estructura lineal se mantenga.

Por un lado, porque en el mundo del hipertexto el contenido ya no es lineal, sino interconectado: la carga para el autor no es en cómo devolverle linealidad al contenido, sino cómo orientar a un lector que puede llegar desde cualquier parte, y seguir hacia cualquier lugar. No tengo que brindar una sola linealidad a través del contenido, sino múltiples que se entrecruzan.

Segundo, porque totalmente la carga pasa al lector. El lector es ahora quien configura su camino a través del contenido, y en realidad el autor no puede detenerlo No veo esto como algo malo, sino como el empoderamiento del lector que no nace siquiera con el hipertexto (pensemos nomás en Rayuela, de Cortázar). Totalmente podemos esperar esto y lo veo más como una ganancia que como una pérdida, en la transformación del papel que juega el lector en la configuración del sentido del contenido.

El diseño de las cosas cotidianas, 2

Un segundo pasaje de The Design of Everyday Things, de Donald Norman, que sigue una línea similar al pasaje anterior en la medida en que cambios en nuestro diseño tecnológico cambian aquello que priorizamos o en lo que podemos enfocarnos al realizar una misma tarea, pero en este caso enfocado principalmente en la tarea de la escritura. Es, en cierto sentido, mcluhaniano.

With changes in writing tools, the speed of writing increases. In handwriting, thought runs ahead, posing special demands on memory and encouraging slower, more thoughtful writing. With the typewriter keyboard, the skilled typist can almost keep up with thought. With the advent of dictation, the output and the thought seem reasonably well matched.

Even greater changes have come about with the popularity of dictation. Here the tool can have a dramatic effect, for there is no external record of what has been spoken; the author has to keep everything in memory. As a result, dictated letters often have a long, rambling style. They are more colloquial and less structured – the former because they are based on speech, the latter because the writer can’t easily keep track of what has been said. Style may change further when we get voice typewriters, where our spoken words will appear on the page as they are spoken. This will relieve the memory burden. The colloquial nature may remain and even be enhanced, but – because the printed record of the speech is immediately visible – perhaps the organization will improve.

The widespread availability of computer text editors has produced other changes in writing. On the one hand, it is satisfying to be able to type your thoughts without worrying about minor typographical errors or spelling. On the other hand, you may spend less time thinking and planning. Computer text editors affect structure through their limited real estate. With a paper manuscript, you can spread the pages upon the desk, couch, wall or floor. Large sections of the text can be examinated at one time, to be reorganized and structured. If you use only the computer, then the working area (or real estate) is limited to what shows on the screen. The conventional screen displays about twenty-four lines of text. Even the largest screens now available can display no more than about two full printed pages of text. The result is that corrections tend to be made locally, on what is visible. Large-scale restructuring of the material is more difficult to do, and therefore seldom gets done. Sometimes the same text appears in different parts of the manuscript, without being discovered by the writer. (To the writer, everything seems familiar.)

Vale la pena mencionar que las pantallas de las que habla son los monitores entre los años ochenta y los noventas (en la época en que fue publicado el libro), no las pantallas gigantes con interfaces gráficas a las que estamos acostumbrados ahoras.

El diseño de las cosas cotidianas, 1

Anoche terminé de leer The Design of Everyday Things, un clásico sobre diseño centrado en el usuario para diferentes productos y tecnologías, de Donald Norman. Es un gran libro que resalta una serie de cosas que no son obvias y deberían serlo sobre la manera como el mundo a nuestro alrededor está diseñado, pero es también curioso por la manera como este libro de los años ochenta hace proyecciones o predicciones sobre cómo funcionará la tecnología en el futuro (muchas de las cuales podemos ver realizadas en productos que aparecen en los últimos años).

Quería compartir algunos fragmentos que me llamaron la atención de la última parte del libro, que es la dedicada justamente al diseño centrado en el usuario y a la manera como el diseño de nuevas tecnologías tiene un fuerte impacto en nuestra conducta cotidiana y nuestros patrones sociales, así que este es el primer fragmento de dos o tres que quiero publicar aquí.

En este fragmento, Norman habla sobre la manera como la aparición de nuevas tecnologías para la automatización de tareas mecánicas libera nuestros cerebros para encargarse de tareas más complejas y potencialmente más interesantes, algo que recientemente Clay Shirky ha explorado en su libro Cognitive Surplus.

Don’t these so-called advances also cause us to lose valuable mental skills? Each technological advance that provides a mental aid also brings along critics who decry the loss of the human skill that has been made less valuable. Fine, I say: if the skill is easily automated, it wasn’t essential.

I prefer to remember things by writing them on a pad of paper rather than spending hours of study on the art of memory. I prefer using a pocket calculator to spending hours of pencil pushing and grinding, usually only to make an arithmetic mistake and not discover it until after the harm has been done. I prefer prerecorded music to no music, even if I risk becoming complacent about the power and beauty of the rare performance. And I prefer writing on a text editor or word processor so that I can concentrate on the ideas and the style, not on making marks on the paper. Then I can go back later and correct ideas, redo the grammar. And with the aid of my all-important spelling correction program, I can be confident of my presentation.

Do I fear that I will lose my ability to spell as a result of overrealiance on this technological crutch? What ability? Actually, my spelling is improving through the use of this spelling corrector that continually points out my errors and suggests the correction, but won’t make a change unless I approve. It is certainly a lot more patient than my teachers used to be. And it is always there when I need it, day or night. So I get continual feedback about my errors, plus useful advice. My typing does seem to be deteriorating because I can now type even more sloppily, confident that my mistakes will be detected and corrected.

In general, I welcome any technological advance that reduces my need for mental work but still gives me the control and enjoyment of the task. That way I can exert my mental efforts on the core of the task, the thing to be remembered, the purpose of the arithmetic or the music. I want to use my mental powers for the important things, not fritter them away on the mechanics.