I just wanted to post a reminder that Thursday 13th November 2008 is World Usability Day. If you're not sure what "usability" means, ask yourself this - why (to paraphrase a comment on the World Usability Day website) is a mobile phone more difficult to use than a door handle ?
Usability means making technology products easy to use, which in turn means designing products with the users' point of view in mind. That applies both to physical products, like mobile phones, and virtual products like computer software. Generally speaking, there is a tendency for the external design of technology products to reveal much too much of the inner workings of the product, which, although necessary, admirable, and often brilliant, are irrelevant to what the user needs to use the product for. I don't know of anyone who uses a hammer for knocking in nails who is particularly interested in the temperature of the furnace in which the hammer's head was forged. It may be interesting to someone, and it's certainly interesting for the manufacturer, but it's not relevant to the everyday tasks the hammer is used for. Unfortunately, irrelevant "furnace temperature" information abounds in the user literature for technology products.
I could go on about usability, and its general absence, for a long time. It's sad but true, but even the very finest user documentation can't compensate for a product that was designed without any consideration for its usability.
Follow the links for more on World Usability Day, and in particular on events in the UK.